As Father's Day approaches my mind is drawn inexorably to memories of my now deceased father, who passed away a few years ago in California.
I don't have very many memories, and none of the fond variety, of my father because he left my mother and four boys when I was four. Between the ages of four and about eleven we neither saw nor heard from him. At eleven my mother, who was in desperate need of a break, agreed to allow my brothers and I to live with him in California for a time.
My memories of the California days are of him selling pot out of his bedroom, getting drunk and laying out in the yard crying about a dog that had recently died and that we suspected he had killed, and him leaving us with a friend of his and then promptly disappearing. Shortly after his disappearing act my mother sent for us and I didn't see him again until I was in the Navy and stationed in San Diego.
I never addressed my father as dad, but I also never called him by his first name in his presence because for some reason I felt that it was the respecful thing to do for this man that I did not respect. If I ever called his house and he didn't answer I would ask whoever did if "he" was there. After a few phone calls though I quickly learned that he wasn't someone that I even wanted to talk to. On the few occassions that we did talk I found that he liked to discuss how proud he was of his stepson Tommy. I always thought how wonderful it was for him to have such a great relationship with his stepson when he had completely abandoned his four boys and never provided a penny of support.
My lack of respect for him had nothing to do, necessarily, with what he had done to his kids. Instead, my lack of respect stemmed from how he had treated my mother. About six years ago, which was probably two years before his death, I sent him an email asking him if he regretted how he had treated my mother and walking out on her and four kids. I told him that I wanted closure and needed to know. His response just reemphasized for me that I was actually pretty lucky to have grown up not knowing him. My brothers have always been angry that we grew up without a father. I, on the other hand, was just happy that we had a mother who did absolutely everything she could to make up for it. All I ever asked him for was some expression of regret.
I used to think that reflecting on how you raised your kids with a somewhat critical eye and fear that you didn't do as good as you needed to was something that just mothers did. I've since learned that fathers do this too.
A buddy of mine recently said that he feared he hasn't been the parent he wanted to be because his kids didn't have the things that he wanted to give them. He's a great dad and being a good parent isn't about the stuff your kids have, it's about the time you spend with them and the love that you show them. It's about being a dad and not just a father.
Kids grow up and hope that they can make their parents proud of them. Parents raise their kids and hope that their kids are proud of them; both sides are really seeking the same thing and in that sense parents and kids really aren't so different. At the end of the day you do the best you can and hope that it's enough.
So if you have a dad who has done the best he can, make sure that you let him know that you appreciate him on Sunday. As for me, I take comfort in knowing that although my father's gone, he's down there somewhere looking up at me.