Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Letter to My Father

Dear Dad,

I wanted to write you because it's been a long time since I had, and because you like getting letters, and because I like writing them. You've been on my mind lately, more than usual.

I'd like to start with a few simple "thank yous," if that's OK. These are in no particular order.

Thank you for pursuing Mom. In today's world it would be stalking, no doubt about it. But she admits she didn't mind it (except maybe when you followed her to Europe when she went on that trip with her cousin; she said that was a bit weird). And you were 16 years her senior, and, well, her boss.

Yeah, creepy. But it ultimately brought me into the world, and I'm enjoying myself here.

Thank you for buying a house where you did. It was a stroke of genius, which I know you didn't know then. But the location is perfect, and the neighborhood that was great to grow up in, where I rode my bike and played football and threw frisbees and lost myself in the woods behind the house for hours on end really just keeps getting better. I am so glad that my brothers didn't have interest in this place when it was going to be sold. I love it here, and I always have, and it is because of you. The tree in the front yard is beyond magnificent.

Thank you for agreeing to the divorce. I know that sounds weird to say, but it really was the best thing that could have happened. While you may have had happy times for a while, by the time I left 8th grade it was all shot to hell. We all knew it. I know it wasn't easy for you to admit defeat, and I'm sure it didn't make much sense to you at the time, or afterwards. Unknowingly, you gave up your own happiness for mine and Mom's. It's what a good father does.

Because you were much older than my friend's fathers, I didn't really connect with you until I was an adult. As a child I found you stodgy, but as I grew I matured, and I paid attention.

Thank you for imbuing me with your love of literature and music. I admit that I didn't like your Big Band sound, and I thought the tapes you made for your friends where you DJ'd were dumb at the time (though they loved them). I did grow weary of hearing Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, Glenn Miller, and Anita O'Day (and I still don't enjoy that sound), but, and you might not know this, I was listening to you love it.

And in between the sounds I disliked were some serious gems. I remember being in my room studying and hearing, for the first time, the throaty awesomeness of Nina Simone. I didn't think much of it until I watched the Bridget Fonda/Gabriel Byrne remake of "Le Femme Nikita" called "Point of No Return." When the first Nina song came on, I started. I recognized it! It gave me chills.

And though I had become interested in classical music really for the first time my freshman year in college (thank you, Music Appreciation 101, J.B. Golden, and Paula Williams), I recall lying in the bathtub at home, long after that class, and hearing the strains of Ennio Morricone's spectacular score for "The Mission" coming out of the speakers in the living room, and thinking, "Wow." You were thrilled when I asked you about it, and thereafter you'd call me excitedly whenever you had other scores (or symphonies) you thought I'd like.

Thank you for not pushing me to major in something I hated just so I would be more employable; I'm convinced my English degree and Education M.Ed. have helped me way more than an MBA would have. I know you were just happy I was going to college, and later I know you were proud that I am the only one of your children to finish college at all.

Thank you for giving me a good economic sense. It has been a huge asset, and I am grateful. My brothers did not get it, and they have still not learned from their mistakes.

Speaking of that, thank you for allowing me to make mistakes, though I never made huge ones. I was conservative enough with money to make good decisions early on. I'm not rich by any monetary means, but I support myself just fine, thanks to your wisdom.

Thank you for letting us have dogs. They all taught me so much, and shaped my life immeasurably.

Your "hands-off" discipline style meant that Mom was the one wielding the switch when I needed it. Some of my friends told stories of the spankings their dads gave them, but I could say, "my dad has never laid a hand on me." I'm not angry at Mom, mind you--I am so thankful she helped me understand that behaviors had consequences, and I learned quickly. Just the thought of disappointing either of you meant that I didn't get spanked much.

Of course, the validity of spanking is now a hot topic, and I'm glad I have no children of my own causing me to have to deal with it. I was not abused. I was disciplined as necessary. There is a difference.

My childhood was a good one, Dad. It wasn't all sunshine and ponies, but it was sturdy and caring compared to the childhoods of some people I am friends with now. Knowing what I now know about how much one's childhood affects the rest of one's life, I am eternally thankful for both you and Mom. I am who I am today because of how I was raised.

Thank you for living your values, and for teaching them to me, and not hiding behind fundamentalist religion to do it. I know you couldn't afford to send me to Catholic school for 9 years, and now I know why you sacrificed and did it anyway: it wasn't because you honestly believed it was a superior education. It was because of your sister, and I can forgive you for that. You loved her in spite of her "crazy" immersion into belief.

I know now that you were agnostic, but "going with the flow" and raising your children in the church of your youth was expected of you. Trust me when I say that knowledge buoys me on a consistent basis. I wondered about it for years, until one day I got it. I had long left the church by then, but never really understood why you had believed it in the first place. You were too intellectual for it, Dad. (Yeah, I hate it when the obvious hits you right smack in the face.)

You worked hard at a job you grew to hate to provide for us. You retired, then started working again because you needed the money. You took care of the things that needed to be taken care of at the expense of doing things you wanted to do. You did the best you could, always.

None of this was lost on me. As I age, I see so much of you in me, where before I thought we had little in common. In your own quiet way, you loved me no matter what. That is the greatest gift a parent can give a child.

Thank you for the sacrifices you made, including the sacrifices to our country during the war, and the stories that came from them. Do you remember that interview I did of you for my Journalism class, the one where I told your story of bailing out of a plane and ending up in a POW camp (with a really wild twist of fate), and I didn't reveal until the end that you were my dad? I got an "A" on it, and I still have it.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of how you have affected my life and helped me along the way. (Mom did, too; she deserves a ton of credit that I will get to later.) You showed me it was good to love learning, and reading, and reciting poetry; the pleasures of a good hammock, a good fire, and a good mixed drink; the way a musical piece can lift you into another world. I had loved the beauty of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" as a symphonic/choral piece for years, and disliked ballet, but when you took me to the ballet performance, I was dumbstruck. I'll never forget it. I still do not care for ballet, but "Carmina" is one I will see again.

I'll never be able to properly thank you, Dad. There's more, but this is enough for now. It's been a philosophical day for me, as this day has been for 16 years now.

I have one more thing to tell you, Dad, besides the fact that the movie "Meet Joe Black" (and its beautiful score by Thomas Newman) makes me sob uncontrollably because Anthony Hopkins' character is not really like you but makes me think of you; besides the fact that I listen to the 2nd movement of Brahm's "Requiem" on this day every year and end up curled in a crying fetal position the rest of the day; besides the fact that Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" makes me stop the car and weep no matter where I am. As I drove home from the hospital after you quietly left, your body spent and unable to continue, I was remembering the sound of your respirator ceasing, and my aunt, Mom, and brothers crying, and the nurse leaving us to our grief. And that song came on the radio.

I love you, and I miss you more than I ever, ever thought I would. I've got so many more movies and scores and songs and books to share with you.

My life is one of happiness and promise, Dad, in many ways because of you. And I have only one real regret: I'm not sure that I told you how much I loved you before you were gone on July 26th, 1994, at the age of 72. I was 28, and we hadn't been "close" for a while. Three days before you went into the hospital complaining of stomach pains, we all gathered at Lee's and had a Father's day cookout. You gave me my birthday present, which I recall was a pair of shorts and a shirt from Sears that I might have worn when I was 15. I know I thanked you for it, and I knew secretly I'd never wear it, but how could you have known? The thought absolutely counted.

I remember parts of that day in stark detail, and the rest none at all. It was hot, of course. You and Lee probably argued. At some point I'm sure I wanted to be doing anything else. But the thing I cannot remember, and believe me, I've tried: did I tell you "I love you" that day? Did I? If not, why not? I could kick myself for not knowing that.

I'm pretty sure I told you in the hospital before your body started shutting down slowly and you went into the coma. Yes, I'm sure I did. We all thought you'd be coming home; pancreatitis is rarely fatal, the doctors all said. But the days passed, and you didn't get better; you got worse. Surely, at some point before you were no longer lucid, I told you.

I'm trying to make up for it by living my best life, and I think you'd be proud of me, still. For weeks after you died, I dreamt of you, and in every single dream I spent so much time telling you how special you were to me, and how much I appreciated you. I woke up crying every morning for weeks after your funeral.

Though I do not believe in the concept of an afterlife, in those dreams, time had reverted back to when you were alive, and you heard me.

Despite my regret, what I did in those dreams has to be enough. I love you, Dad.

"It doesn't matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was."
~Anne Sexton


  1. Beautiful post! Some real similarities between your dad and my dad. I inherited my dad's love of books instead of music (I got that from Music Appreciation my junior year in high school), but he was 16 years older than my mom and he died when I was 29. Went into the hospital for abdominal pain, cancer was found, operation a few days later, he died within 6 weeks at age 66. That was 9 years ago.

    It's wonderful that you remember your father the way you do and nice that you chose to share it here. I'm sure he knew he effected your life in some ways, and whether you said it or not, he knew you loved him...parents just know.

  2. Wow...weird similarities. My dad was also 16 years older than my mom.

    I know he knew, down deep. But while I'd like to think I wasn't as shallow at 28 as I was at 21, I didn't tell him I loved him a lot. And I should have. My mom is still alive and fairly lucid, and I tell her often, and thank her for all she gave to me. I'm glad to have the chance to do it, too.

    I know people who rarely say "I love you" to their family members and spouses. They provide for them, and take care of them, and it's obvious that they DO love them, but they rarely say it for some reason of another. And I'm sure there are some spouses and family members that are OK with it, but I know more who aren't. I think deeds are important, obviously, but words are, too.

    How hard is it to tell your loved ones that you love them? I cannot remember all the nice things that people have done for me over the years, but I do remember those who have told me they love me. I don't know if that makes a lot of sense.

    Thanks for reading, and commenting.


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