This weekend is Father’s Day once again. Fourteen years ago, my father passed away due to breast cancer. Yes, breast cancer! I watched him suffer the last two years of his life, wishing I could make his passing from this world easier, by making the pain go away and telling him that I loved him whenever I could. That was not as often as I liked because he lived about 2000 miles from me and it was not as often as he deserved because he was the sweetest, kindest man I’ve ever met.
My dad was the cornerstone of my family. Don’t get me wrong. He was not perfect. I came along after a brief affair he had with mother. They weren’t married and back in the 50s, that was an embarrassment and a shame. Because of that, he could not openly express that he was happy I was his daughter. Later, he and his wife divorced. Then, my grandfather died, leaving my grandmother a widow. My dad married my grandmother whom he had fallen in with. Because of that, he was in my life all of my life. Unlike a deadbeat dad, he made sure I had pretty much everything I needed, especially love, encouragement, and emotional support. I spent every summer with him and my grandmother, going to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, Marine Land, Sea World, Universal Studios, and many, many restaurants and parks. My summers were overflowing with joy and fun.
In my 40th year, he told me he was my father. My stepfather was dying in Hospice and as my dad contemplated his own inevitable death, he decided he could not die without explaining who he was really and why he had not told me before, as well as why he could not publicly claim me as his own.
To be honest, I didn’t care then and I don’t care now that he would not make it known that I was his. He had another child, a son, who my grandmother insisted should get the entire inheritance and that was more than fine with me. When my half-brother was born, my dad was much older and had slowed down a lot. The money I could have inherited was not nearly worth as much as the time and activity my dad shared with me.
What I have learned since he died has truly shocked me. My dad was a peacemaker extraordinaire! My mother and grandmother were extremely jealous of each other and were butting heads constantly, trying desperately to get his attention and make the other look bad. My dad danced between the two of them smoothly and effortlessly He constantly had to find solutions to problems that would arouse no jealousy and avoid further arguments. After he died, the two women showed their real colors. There was no one left to keep their war from the “children” any more. Family holiday dinners became a battlefield and soon, my mother told us that if we were going to invite my grandmother, not to bother inviting her. My grandmother began begging off because she didn’t want to upset my mother. Me and my sisters lost our appetites and our hair as we pulled out huge clumps from frustration!
Twelve years later, my mother died, and at this point, there is no family left. I don’t drive any more, and she is deaf, so is unable to have a phone conversation. Since I was the one that drove to my grandma’s house to visit all the time, there are no visits. My sisters and brothers have become estranged from each other and from me. I tried to take my dad’s job on, to hold the family together, but was not up to the task.
Since he died, however, I have thanked God for him every day. In the 60s, he loved everyone of every color, every class, and both genders just because they were human. In a time of racial unrest, the battle of the sexes, and the loss of the American dream, he was never a bit prejudiced, or envious, and taught me that unconditional love that he shared with everyone that he came into contact with. With the kids in our family, he acted with respect and encouragement, always seeing us as people, never as “just kids” like so many of the other adult males I knew. He welcomed all extended family into his house for week long visits, and served them cheerfully, without counting minutes or pennies. He worked long days as a mail carrier (before the job became pared down–they used to sort, pack, and carry it all themselves manually). He watched out for the neighbors, and worked at home, building sheds, planting gardens, fixing cars, etc. Besides the love he gave me, he taught me to do word puzzles, play basketball, skate, build fences, and fix the car. He gave me a confidence no one taught my siblings. (They were not his kids.) I thank God for that man!
I wish every child could have a dad like mine. It would be preferable if he were married to their mom, but that is not as important as every day being committed to his children. I pray that each father learns early to spend time with his children, challenge them to learn skills, and love them unconditionally. I hope I get to see him in heaven, but until then, I am grateful for the full basket of memories he left me with.
Happy Happy Father’s Day, Dad!