21 June 2009

Getting a head start

I got a two hour head start on Father's Day this year: Desmond decided that it was party time Saturday at ten pm, just as Mom was falling asleep. We played with some blocks, watched a little "Wow Wow Wubzy" and shared some philosophies about life before he finally cashed it all in just before midnight. I am amazed that he was still up. We went to a cousin's birthday party Saturday afternoon and Desmond ran himself silly for about three hours. Desmond in public is a lot like a shark in the water: neither remains still, ever.

My boy turns one-and-a-half today. Eighteen months. He is everything that I could have ever imagined him to be, even if he moves at half the speed if light. He's changed so much in just the last month or so, as he has become assured of his upward mobility (read: he can run without stumbling all over the joint); new bits and pieces of his personality erupt from him by the minute it seems (the latest innovation? The TEMPER); he babbles endlessly, but we can definitely start to hear him forming his words (we are sure that we are days away from the point where he will not stay silent for the next several years). Every day is something new, something we have never experienced before. I can only imagine what it must be like for him.

I've never been much of a Father's Day kind of guy. My father was not the type of person to celebrate any kind of "special" day, whether holidays, birthdays or anniversaries. He was quite content to spend most of his free time with his family no matter what time of the year it was, and never expected gifts for anything. As a result, he was impossible to shop for. He had two set responses when asked for suggestions: "I have more than I could ever possibly need" and "If you don't know by now what I like, then you haven't been paying much attention, have you?" He saved the latter response for when he knew that we were frustrated in coming up with ideas for him, for he was quite sinister when he chose to be.

From the time of my mid-teens, I never had a problem finding a present for Father's Day: I bought him a round of golf. I think Dad and I played golf together on father's Day morning for fifteen or so straight years, up until a few years before he died, when he stopped playing altogether due to his arthritic shoulder.

I can't recall what I bought him for those last few years.

My most vivid Father's Day recollection? Easily 2002, though it wasn't the day itself. Dad passed away on June 8th, eight days before Sunday the 16th. The night before his wake, I went to buy a dress shirt, and I'll never forget the spectacle of the signs in the men's department, banners that hung from the ceiling imploring shoppers not to "forget Dad this Father's Day."

I remember having this feeling of wanting to light each and every one of those banners on fire, and watch them burn into charred strips of blackened paper until they blew away into the air. I've never felt more ominous in the presence of any kind of advertising, even though I was well aware that we had never made a big deal of Father's Day. It was simply a reminder of what had been taking away from me about forty-eight hours prior.

Or what I thought had been taking from me. The hindsight of seven years (seven years!) has given me the knowledge that death does nothing to the status of a relationship other than force it into a place where it exists solely in the heart and in memory. There are certain things that we can no longer touch, feel or hear, but these things do not go away; they are just re-appropriated to long-term storage.

In 2007, when I was a first-time expectant father, I got quite tired of people telling me that that particular Father's Day "counted" for me. There were still many questions left about what we were headed for: we didn't know the sex of our child, and ultimately there was still a chance that the pregnancy would never make it to term. I didn't feel like a father yet. I recall that it was a nice day that year, and I spent a good deal of time sitting outside on our deck. I couldn't help but think about my father because in six months I would be joining him in fatherhood-it was one of the last life experiences that he had that I had yet to-and I also couldn't help but think of what it had been like to have been without him for the past five years. Sadness over his death had gone away a long time ago, replaced by a comforting knowledge of knowing that for as long as I was alive, I would be keeping him alive with me. I also felt a burden, because he was gone, and if my child was going to know him, it would be entirely up to me to give him that knowledge. How could I possibly do such a thing? How could I describe thirty-five years of a relationship in such a way as to assure that my child would not feel that his late grandfather was a stranger?

Throughout this initial pregnancy, I experienced an existential crisis that in some ways is still around: I became obsessed with the idea that I could die before my child was born. The irony of such a fate! I had spent most of my adult years convinced that marriage and parenthood was not for me, yet when the opportunity presented itself I went for it as hard as anything ever in my life prior. How cruel would it be to be taken away from this life just before bringing a new one into it?

This was a daily (irrational) battle. And because of my state on Father's Day 2007 it manifested into me trying to understand how my child might feel on that first Father's Day, be it in a year or in fifty, when I was no longer alive. How quickly would he forget me, if he ever knew me at all? The only word I can think of to describe Father's Day 2007 is probably a bit exaggerated: "tortuous."

I am like my father in that I don't particularly care to celebrate certain days over others. I'm 42, and my birthday has just been another day now for more than half of my life; I enjoy certain holidays, of course, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but they pass so quickly now that I feel like I never quite experience them. I love being a father, and my gut tells me that I don't need a certain day to celebrate the miracle of being a Dad. I live it every day, no matter what the calendar says.

My two favorite days of the year are August 2nd and December 21st. Those are the birthdays of my wife and son, the two people who bring me an amount of joy and contentment that I never really understood was possible.

I think about my father every single day, and I think about being a father to my son every moment of every day. Always, I am smack dab in the middle of a generational seesaw: a son of a father, a father of a son.

It has taken me a while to reach this state of balance, but now that I am here, it is where I will always be.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you did an entry because I wanted to come by and wish you a Happy Father's Day whether you did a post or not.
My two favorite days of the year are August 2nd and December 21st. Those are the birthdays of my wife and son, the two people who bring me an amount of joy and contentment that I never really understood was possible.

You are a very smart man, as evidenced by the above. Happy Father's Day. ~Mary

Beth said...

What a wonderful tribute. Lovely. I wish you a very happy Father's Day.