My father died twenty years ago today.
I’ve spent the last week preparing for today. It’s been our tradition that Mom and I call each other every year on this day, at around 3:30 pm Eastern, the time that my father died. I called Mom, but she was in the middle of a physical therapy session, and so the call ended a little earlier than the appointed time. When that time passed, however, my lovely wife reached for my hand and held it as I cried.
This year is harder than it’s been in the past several years. I think it being an even two decades weighs heavily on me.
But I’ve also spent the last several years thinking my dad was not a very good dad, oblivious to my own role in that relationship. This year it’s different. This year, I have a lot to apologize for.
So, just as I forgave myself two days ago, it’s time to write my dad a letter.
~ ~ ~
It’s been twenty years since you’ve been gone, and I miss you very much.
I spent the first fifteen or so years in a state of hero worship about you. I built you up on this amazingly high pedestal and there you stayed while I built it higher and higher.
And then it came crashing down around me when I put two and two together, and realized that you became a much stricter disciplinarian after my rape. You fell off that pedestal very hard, and for a time I really didn’t like you very much. I never stopped being proud of you for your professional accomplishments, but I became aware of how much more important your work seemed compared to me, I remembered the suddenly much shorter hair-trigger fuse that would lead to corporal punishment, and I blamed you for a lot of it.
You never beat me, however. I’ve always known and been clear on that point. The punishments you gave weren’t worse than they were before my rape, they were just more frequent. And I never could figure out why that was the case.
This week, it dawned on me that the reason you were the way you were was partially because you were processing your own anger, and partially because I was processing my own emotions and feelings about what happened to me that summer and fall, and I was acting out a lot more than I was beforehand.
And so I owe you an apology. Not just for blaming you when it wasn’t entirely your fault, but for all the times that I fell short of your expectations. They were high, because you knew I was capable. Because of my illnesses, I struggled to meet my potential, and still do, and always will, and I’m sorry for that. What I can tell you is that I do the best that I can, even though that changes from day to day.
At the same time, there were a lot of shortcomings you had as a father. You were absorbed in your own work and leisure activities, and while you admittedly tried to get me interested in them, I just didn’t have an interest in working on cars and with wood. (I’ve changed on those two accounts, and I wish that I’d learned from you when I could.) Our interests just didn’t see eye to eye, and while I made the attempt to join you in yours, you never made much effort to join me in mine.
I understand that your own father was out of the picture during WWII, though, even though he wasn’t drafted. Two years away in the Pacific theater with the Seabees was still two years away, and right at a time when you needed a father figure the most. I don’t blame you – I don’t blame him, either – it was just how you learned to be a father.
And so for all those shortcomings, those times when I needed you and you weren’t there, those times when I wanted you to engage and you didn’t, I forgive you.
You and I weren’t the perfect father and son team by any stretch of the imagination. I was thankful for what I got from you, though, and am still thankful to this day; I know that you were proud of me for being me, no matter what. I know that you’d still be proud of me today, despite not having a life of comfort and a successful career.
But I still forgive you.
And I love you.
And I miss you.
P.S. This is not blanket forgiveness. That time that you fed me pork brains and tried to convince me it was sausage, that time you spent two years playing a practical joke on me about what belly hair meant, those two things I don’t forgive you for. I know it wasn’t your intention, but those two incidents did a number on me – especially the one with the pork brains – that it took me years to recover from. I forgive you for not being the best father. I don’t forgive you for going out of your way to be an asshole to me on occasion. No matter how funny both stories are in hindsight.