Father’s Day…for some reason this year I miss my father.
I don’t remember when I started prefacing any discussion or stories about my dad with “He did the best he could.” My father was deeply flawed, problematic in his attitudes and beliefs, often angry and exhausted from working overtime–and did the best he could as a father. As a person.
Pop never finished high school. He went to work as a pressman in L.A., married my mother, and had four little kids before the age of 26. They lost a child before me, or there would have been five of us. A combination of paper dust, ink dust, and the cigarettes he’d smoked since the age of fifteen caused the lung cancer that killed him.
He was still young. I was younger.
While my dad had uncles, he never had a relationship with his own father. He had no one to model what a father should be, or how a father interacts with his children. My grandmother wasn’t an easy woman to deal with, or live with, or even love, something I was keenly aware of even as a little kid. The fact my father never talked about his childhood–as in never my whole life–is a clue that growing up was difficult. I know lots of stories from my mom’s childhood, not a single one from my dad’s.
In my teens I started to see his flaws, the cracks, and Pop’s own terrors. He wanted his four children to be perfect, to be the best, to excel in school, and most of all, he didn’t want us to struggle with life as much as he did.
And he did struggle. I shouldn’t say he was never comfortable in his own skin, but he was most alive and happiest on fishing or hunting trips to the mountains. Los Angeles suffocated him, and he escaped as often as he could. My mom always said Pop was born 100 years too late; he should have been a mountain man.
One of my earliest memories is of my father telling me stories about the full moon visible through the bedroom window, and talking until I fell asleep. He was a giant at 6’4 1/2″ to seven-year-old me, and he taught me to dance–and to love music–by having me stand on his feet while he moved through the steps.My dad introduced me to Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, and Lena Horn.
Twice he managed to save up enough money to take the whole family camping in the Sierras. Listening to the wind in the pines and aspens, and the rush of water in the creek that looped the campground, I fell in love with the mountains, birdsong, trees and sky.
I understood why he went back to the mountains so often. And I began to understand why concrete and steel suffocate me, and make me so restless.
My dad was far from the perfect parent, but he did the best he could. I never doubted he loved me.
That’s a rare thing, never having to doubt you’re loved.