Saturday, June 18, 2011

No fathers, just memories

Father’s Day is approaching, but—sadly—there are no more fathers around for us to shower with shirts that don't fit, ties they don’t need, and, in one unpleasant instance, a fancy-schmancy showerhead that my father looked at and handed right back to me. This didn’t cause me psychological damage. I understood that my father knew what he liked and didn’t like, and this time I got it wrong. Almost every other time he told me I gave him the best presents, and with his penchant for honesty, I knew he meant it.

There’s the father of my kids, whom I’m no longer married to but wish well. He’ll be amply gifted by our daughters. My husband doesn’t have kids and he came into my daughters’ lives way too late for them to think of him as other than their mother’s husband—although they treat him with kindness.

So, this week there are no cards to buy, no masculine—frivolous—gadgets to look for. But I can reflect.

My father died in 1997 at the age of 80. By that time, we could no longer communicate because Parkinson’s had affected his mind. We couldn’t tell if he understood anything we were saying. One of the last memories I have, before the one-day hospice stay he endured—was a small birthday party at his nursing home. He attempted to eat the cake, although Parkinson’s had attacked his ability to swallow properly too, but I’m not sure he knew what we were celebrating.

After my mother died in 2005, we cleared out their condo and got rid of bagsful of stuff—Depression-era parents saved nearly everything—but I held onto the items that either brought back memories or I thought I might need. Today, I still have what I refer to as “the shrine.” In a small section of my closet are papers, trinkets, photos, death notices—you never know when you might need another one—and other things I swear I’m going to go through and purge one day.

Besides the shrine, there are Rubbermaid boxes of stuff that we finally are going through (probably to make space for our own junk). Among other papers in one of the boxes is a stack of my father’s poems. He wrote most of them in the late 40s and early 50s, and whenever I come across them I see different parts of this often quiet man’s inner being. Here’s a short one that made me smile and that I recognized as truly him:

I doff my hat to the clever wit
Who worked and worried, bit by bit,
Till he evolved, to our surprise
That wondrous gift to please our eyes:
Pictures that move.

And, on the subject, it’s only fair
To mention the others who did their share,
I bow low to the engineers
Who brought this boon to our happy ears:
Pictures that talk.

With all these gifts at their command,
You can readily understand
Why I’d like to dump in the lake
All the guys who continually make
Pictures that smell.

There are others, including a much longer, serious one about the disappointment GIs faced when coming home to live the American dream from World War II, written in August 1948. I’ll publish that one in the future.

Until then, I wish fathers everywhere a happy day and hope that you cherish your family and that they let you know they feel the same.