I’m not young and most people my age lost their fathers long ago. But still. When I think of my dad, who died earlier this year, it isn’t with deep sadness. I became the parent of my father in his final years. That snippet of time allowed me a new perspective on familial love. Now I understand the term bittersweet as never before. We had raging disputes over his driving, long rides where he could tell me stories, nightmare-inducing fears over medications, falling, finances and finally the chance to tuck my father in and comfort him.
Growing up in Lodi, California, my family didn’t have much. A small house, one bathroom, one car, vacations that meant visiting grandparents, homemade this and that. But even as a child, I understood what rich really meant. My mother sewed. My father built our boat. We played games, built traditions and I lived in the bliss of unconditional love. My mother was home during the day and my father came home at night. It was understood my brothers and I would go to college. My father was transferred from California to New York when I started 7th grade and then to Ohio when I started my senior year. I remember my dads words: “Make life-decisions for you and your spouse. Not for your children.” Boy, was I mad when he said that. Uh…I get it now. He never told me what to do. He just modeled coping skills. When he got home from work, he played with us or he built something. Or fixed something.
My father was a Korean War pilot and I was to understand in these final years the depth of his pride. He never talked about his business success. I just took that for granted. But during our long talks and sorting through pictures, awards and papers, I learned that he had achieved the acclaim of his peers, the accolades of his employer. I watched him take care of my mother with never-ending love.
He lived well, laughed often and knew the joy of grandchildren and even great grandchildren.
So, missing my father on Father’s Day turns out to be a gift to me. Loving one’s parents is universal and age-old. So too is grief and loss. And acceptance. And small, new hands.