Monday, June 16, 2008

Dads and Kids

This is a difficult week for me.

My first Father's Day after my dad's death wasn't particularly peachy. Yes, it had most of the usual accouterments, not including breakfast in bed (due to 1. my stupid cat scratching at the door over and over in the middle of the night, and 2. my boy coming into the room at 3:30am and puking shortly thereafter), but all things considered it was your normal day of paternal tribute...with one exception: my dad.

I'm still adjusting to not having him around. I miss him. The saddest part about this is, if he'd never gotten sick, if he'd never died, I might have gone this long without seeing or really talking to him anyway, and not really thought much about it. Now that he is gone, I find myself needing him more and more, and realizing that in fact, I always needed him this much, and was always too proud, or too afraid of some reaction, or too busy to let him know it. Or to acknowledge it for myself.

A good friend shared an essay by Steve Martin with me that provided some much needed perspective. Like Steve's, my dad was very critical, angry all the time, and prone to offend any number of surrounding people at any time without warning. I also, at one point, decided I officially hated him, that I wanted him to....not die, but gone from our lives so many times as a young child, so disruptive was his presence in the small world of my mom and us little kids.

However, Steve indicates that the memories of the terrible persisted until a good long time after his father's death, after which point, he "recall[ed] events that seem to contradict [his] memory of him." The same thing is starting to happen to me, but in reverse. Maybe it was my dad's long sickness that started the process of forgetting the terrible, but almost immediately after his death, I internally canonized him, carving out this huge emotional construct by which I could use my memories of him to channel my own life in a direction he'd approve of. Although I can't recall any long list of great things he did for me at this or that age, I do have trouble remembering all the things I didn't like about him, all the things that made it hurt to be his son.

Maybe that's okay. Maybe that's why I did actually write down good and bad in my pre-death posts, because I knew that not only would I forget the upsetting things, but that even those things would become fond memories after his passing. Not fond like finding a Red Rider BB gun under the tree on Christmas morning, but fond like hugging a grouchy old man because you're happy he's your dad, even if he's not always your favorite guy in the world.

The other reason this is a difficult week for me is because in only a few short days I am sending my two wonderful girls home to their families in Germany and Indonesia. Sending an exchange student home is something we've already done once, and it was hard, but he's a boy, and he didn't show his emotions, and I gave him a very manly hug and wished him well, and we watched him walk toward security until Sophia ran to him and hugged him again, and then we all cried as if in a movie. But this time will be different, because girls are...well, different. I bonded with Santos in many ways, and I still consider him mijo, but the bond between man and daughter is a strange, mysterious, and beautiful thing. I do not really understand it, Sophia being only five so far, but I know its effects fully. And now I know them triple fold. And in just a few days, two of my girls will go off into the world. Although (yes, I know) they're going back to a family and culture and world they're far more familiar with than this one we've shared with them, it is nevertheless a family and culture and world without US, and they leave our home without THEM, and that loss will be felt a very long time. Fortunately, the joy we have had while they have been here will last even longer, as we have found with Santos, and knowing the three of them are out there in the world, little pieces of us in them, and them in us, makes that joy last forever.

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