Father’s Day

Father’s Day never fails to make me think about my father.  That’s the whole idea, right?  The problem is that thinking about my dad brings back the summer of 1989, the last time I saw him on Father’s Day. 

A few days before, he’d heard something on Paul Harvey’s radio program.  He told me, “Be sure to listen to Paul Harvey on Sunday.”  Then he asked if it would be okay with me if he spent he day visiting his best friend, Jim, a few hours away.  I said, “Of course,” and on Sunday, I listened to this:

 What Are Fathers Made Of?

A father is a thing that is forced to endure childbirth with an anesthetic.

A father is a thing that growls when it feels good . . . and laughs very loud when it’s scared half to death.

A father is sometimes accused of giving too much time to his business when the little ones are growing up.

That’s partly fear, too.

Fathers are much more easily frightened than mothers.

A father never feels entirely worthy of the worship in a child’s eyes.

He’s never quite the hero his daughter thinks . . never quite the man his son believes him to be . . . and this worries him, sometimes.

So he works too hard to try and smooth the rough places in the road for those of his own who will follow him.

A father is a thing that gets very angry when the first school grades aren’t as good as he thinks they should be.

He scolds his son . . . though he knows it’s the teacher’s fault.

A father is a thing that goes away to war, sometimes . . .

And learns to swear and shoot and spit through his teeth and would run the other way except that this war is part of his only important job in life . . . which is making the world better for his child than it has been for him.

Fathers grow old faster than people.

Because they, in other wars, have to stand at the train station and wave goodbye to the uniform that climbs aboard.

And while mothers can cry where it shows . . .

Fathers have to stand there and beam outside . . . and die inside.

Fathers have very stout hearts, so they have to be broken sometimes or no one would know what’s inside.

Fathers are what give daughters away to other men who aren’t nearly good enough . . . so they can have grandchildren that are smarter than anybody’s.

Fathers fight dragons, almost daily.

They hurry away from the breakfast table . . .

Off to the arena which is sometimes called an office or a workshop . . .

There, with calloused, practiced hands they tackle the dragon with three heads . . .

Weariness, Work and Monotony.

And they never quite win the fight, but they never give up.

Knights in shining armor . . .

Fathers in shiny trousers . . . there’s little difference . . .

As they march away to each workday.

Fathers make bets with insurance companies about who’ll live the longest.

Though they know the odds they keep right on betting . . .

Even as the odds get higher and higher, . . . they keep right on betting . . . more and more.

And one day they lose.

But fathers enjoy an earthly immortality . . . and the bet’s paid off to the part of him he leaves behind.

I don’t know . . . where fathers go . . . when they die.

But I’ve an idea that after a good rest . . . wherever it is . . . he won’t be happy unless there’s work to do.

He won’t just sit on a cloud and wait for the girl he’s loved and the children she bore . . .

He’ll be busy there, too . . . repairing the stairs . . . oiling the gates . . . improving the streets . . . smoothing the way.

–Excerpt from Paul Harvey News, American Broadcasting Company, Father’s Day 1950.

That June day, my dad expressed to me what he never could put into words or even hugs.  His childhood had broken him in ways he never articulated; his heart was crippled all his life.  I remember him hugging me maybe three times in my whole life, but I know that he loved me.  Paul Harvey’s words about fatherhood that summer day reassured me of that plain fact.

I worried about my dad that summer.  In May, he’d been diagnosed with two brain tumors which were the result of metastasized melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer.  The doctors predicted he’d live anywhere from four months to two years.  

My husband and I lived with him that summer, which was arguably the worst summer of our lives.  Although the sun shone, the shadows were dark and cold in our hearts.  My dad–never a cheerful guy to begin with–was grouchy and took out his anger on my dear husband who had the nerve to put the spoons in the wrong slot in the drawer and failed to turn off the laundry room light.

On the last day of summer, September 21, 1989, my dad died at home, in the same lavender-walled room where I’d spent my adolescence.  He was 47 years old. 

*  *  * 

I talked about my dad before here and here.

14 thoughts on “Father’s Day

  1. Sometimes the only way to say something is with someone else’s words. That’s why they invented poetry and song.

    I added your other blog to my blogroll and realized I hadn’t added you. Fixing that immediately.

    Ann

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  2. Mel, although you’ve told me your story in person, I think writing about your dad like this is very beautiful and a thoughtful tribute to the man he was and wanted to be. You must yearn for his presence, to have known your children. I hope you know that he is there with you even now, the essence of him.

    Hugs.

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  3. that made me cry. it’s amazing how, although you were talking about your dad, I could see pieces of mine in there. it’s beautiful. I’m so glad he gave you that gift that day.

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  4. I really REALLY loved this post and the Paul Harvery commentary. I read your previous posts on your father and they are beautiful. One thing you wrote really struck a chord with me, “His childhood had broken him in ways he never articulated; his heart was crippled all his life.” That is described so beautifully and it’s fitting for my own father. I don’t think I have ever stepped back enough to say it as charitably and tenderly—I’ve gotten caught up in viewing it how it has affected me, and less what it’s been like for my father. Thank you for this perspective.

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  5. You’re making me cry here! Your Dad sounds a lot like my Dad – unable to express their love for their children, yet we knew it was there. June 6th was the 6th anniversary of my Dad’s death. He adored my children and I wish he was still here to see them grow up.

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  6. This made my cry, but for a very different reason. I’m pleased for you and all who have wonderful, endearing memories of fathers. While my experiences are quite different, I rejoice in your joyful and heartful tributes.

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  7. It is so hard. Beautiful post.

    My father died on Sept. 16th, 1994, 5 weeks before his first grandchild, Cory, was born. It….broke….my….heart that he didn’g get to see him. He did name him though. At the time, US had told us that Cory was a girl, so he named the baby Cory Nicole. When a boy popped out, we kept ‘Cory’ and usedmy fathers name as his middle name.

    I still miss my Daddy.

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