Monday, November 25, 2013

Birthday Dinner

Tonight I hosted a dinner in honor of what would have been my dad's 69th birthday. My household family was there, of course, as well as my mom, sister, and father-in-law. The way I wrote it in the 55 is pretty spot-on; I do like things to be just so, especially since my dad can't actually be here, and though all intention that falls short of execution will go completely unnoticed by the living attendees, it will not go unexcused by myself.

Of course I know my dad was here today. It didn't take much more than my almost involuntary reaction to the Lions' awful performance today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for me to realize that. And I've been on an emotional edge today for other reasons. So needless to say the dinner tonight was pulled off almost exactly as if my dad was trying to hide his smoking in my basement (which is to say, with much tenuousness and crabbiness on my part).

I do miss my dad. Terribly. I miss his sense of humor and his laugh, and his seriousness. I miss the things he was passionate about that almost always surprised me (except football and politics). I even miss his short temper and often too-quick reactions to things that weren't really that big a deal. It's a convenient side effect of his passing that I no longer have to deal with some things, but I miss them nonetheless.

I wanted to make a grand toast tonight at my dinner table, but I decided it'd taken so damned long to get everyone around the table in the first place, and on top of that the steaks were getting cold, that I just plunged into the dinner. There was still a toast, but no speech. So here is the meager edited version of what might have been a spectacular (though likely very long-winded) impromptu oration.

I've had this journal with me for months, carrying it to and from work and school every single day. I have it with me more often then I have my cell phone. I've written in it sporadically over the years and never really gone back to see what's in there. Tonight, for a completely unrelated reason than today's tangent, I pulled it out and opened it to the first page, dated 8 December 1997. It reads:
    "Well, today we found out for sure that N is pregnant. We already knew as of Saturday, but the doctor made it official today. Congratulations, to me.

    "I feel as if I should be doing something, becoming something. I mentioned it to N and she feels that way also. Of course, it's exciting. Of course, I wanted a baby. Then why do I not feel so full of joy, so excited at the prospect of becoming (being?) a father? I hope I will not ruin these first days of discovery for myself, or especially N. It would be a shame to remember our first days of knowing we'd conceived our first born as confused and troubled.

    [And here I discuss possible reasons that seem trivial after all this time.]

    "My deepest fear is that it's simply because N's pregnant. I want so badly to be a provider, a man of morality and integrity, worthy of greeting my first child and leading him/her through life. I want to be strong, responsible, intelligent, improvisational, reasonable, funny--I want to be what I think the perfect MAN should be. But then, I've always wanted that.

    "Maybe this is about all of a sudden not being all those things when, in 9 months, someone will arrive into this world who will expect and need me to be nothing less. Can I be a good, decent father if I am not all those things? Sure there are lots of scumbags who can pass along their DNA, but I want to be something special. Will I be? My fear is that I will not."
That child I worried so much about being a father to turned 15 this summer, and I still have the same worries on an almost daily basis. I love this kid more than any words can express. He has a younger brother and sister now, too, so the worries have only compounded. My inability to be a good enough man has left for them potholes they won't know how to navigate around, because their mother and I haven't learned ourselves. I have watched them fail in detestable ways and seen only a reflection of myself. But I have also seen a miracle occur: I have seen them succeed in ways I never could have imagined for either myself or them.

I didn't get to know my dad very well before he was killed by cancer and chemotherapy, but I knew him well enough to understand that he also lived with these same fears every day of my life. He was a bastard sometimes, truly. He was an alcoholic and an abuser. And I don't make excuses for him. But I understand him, because from an emotional perspective, I have become him. He was in pain his entire life. He was ill equipped for manhood and fatherhood, because despite what society demonstrates, men are taught to be Men; it's not automatic, and the expectation that it could be is a Great Bullshit Lie. After learning some things about my dad later, things he would certainly have been loathe to share with any other human being, let alone those who called him Dad, I think his performance as a father was nothing short of a miracle.

Tonight I honor my dad, not just with a meal or company, but with the weight I carry in my heart. He died was taken away before he could fully become himself, and we were all therefore deprived of an even more amazing person. Every year since his passing, I realize how much like him I'm becoming, and that I'm on the same painful journey of self-discovery he never really started in earnest. He and I have the same unfinished business.

I'm not taking on his burdens; I have my own aplenty. But I will still carry with me memories of his painful nights, his addictive fits, his simple loves and pleasures. I will consult his life's laboratory notebook while doing my own painful experiment in Happiness, and as I complete my own, I'll jot down a few solutions for his benefit as I work though them. He wanted happiness for me, and my siblings, without having a clue how to find it himself. This I understand very painfully as a parent myself. But in his nobility as a sufferer, he did so much of the footwork for us ahead of time. He could never have known this; in fact I'm certain it was a point of shame for him, but it's something for which I will always be grateful. I truly think he knows it now, and it may even be satisfying, though he no doubt still carries great regrets over the man he wanted to be while he lived.

As for me, I will try to become a good and decent enough Man for the both of us. Happy birthday, dad. I will always, always love you, and miss you forever.

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