I’ve been thinking of my dad recently. As impossible as it is for me to really comprehend, he’s been dead 45 years now. And as I think of him, I am able to see him, and my relationship with him, with an objectivity I never quite had while he was alive.
He was born in 1909, into a dysfunctional family. His parents divorced when he was quite young and he spent some time in an orphanage. I’ve just this moment realized that to this day, I do not know whether it was his mother or his father who retrieved and raised him, but his life could not have been easy. His mother remarried several times, his father once.
He met and married my mother when he was 22…mom was 24…and I came along a few years later. Neither he nor Mom finished high school, and both worked very hard all their lives. Given their backgrounds and temperaments, they should probably never have married; but of course if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. They probably should have divorced when I was in grade school, but they didn’t. My mom was totally devoted to him, despite his string of extramarital relationships, one lasting until about four years before his death.
Many fathers and sons have a rocky relationship, the father wanting the son to be and do so many things the son either did not want to be or do, with the result of the son’s feeling like he did not live up to the father’s expectations. This was definitely the case with me. Dad loved sports and so wanted me to share that love. I was awkward and clumsy and terrible at team sports, as a partial result of which I grew to hate organized sports of any kind.
Because he and Mom argued endlessly, I—definitely a momma’s boy—sided with her, which I know caused him a great deal of pain. I’m sure I hurt him terribly far too many times. (An incident just popped into my head: he and I were somewhere shopping for something and he bought me a bag of candy. I had finished it before he reminded me, not out of anger but what I realize now was hurt, that I had not offered him a single piece. I still remember and deeply regret my thoughtlessness.)
It was not until he died, of a second heart attack within six months, at the age of 57, that I began to realize just how unfair I had been to him most of my life. Of course he was flawed…who isn’t? But I could have made more of an effort to understand him while he was still alive. He had known I was gay long before I finally “officially” came out to him and my mom, and in a way, he handled the knowledge better than Mom did.
In the few years between my declaring my homosexuality—thus ending decades of foolish game playing and avoidance—and Dad’s death, we finally reached an accommodation, and I began my journey on the long road to understanding.
Dad wasn’t a physically demonstrative type of person. Men didn’t do that sort of thing. The one way he demonstrated his affection was, when we were sitting side by side on the couch, he would reach over and squeeze my knee, hard, which always evoked a loud yelp of protest from me. It wasn’t until long after his death that I realized what he meant by it.
I would, with all my heart, truly like to believe that, in the moments before he died, he thought of me and knew that I loved him. For the one thing in my life of which I am absolutely sure is that he truly, truly loved me with all his heart and soul. I know that when I joined the Naval Aviation Cadet program, he was extremely proud of me, and that when I washed out of the program, it hurt him, but it did not diminish his pride in me. No matter how much I angered or frustrated or hurt him, he was proud of me.
It may be immodest of me to say, but I am not talking of myself when I say that I was, truly, his sun.
I hope it is not too late to say, yet again, “Thank you, Dad. I love you.”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).