Well, dear friends, as Father's Day approached this week I found my thoughts turning to my relationship with my father. He has been gone for over five years now, but I find I still think of him often and I imagine I always will. I often contrast my relationship with him with the relationship between my husband and our daughter. My sisters describe my husband as a "modern dad", very involved and likely as close to our daughter as I am. I must admit that my father and I had a more distant and traditional relationship, and that as a result I was closer to my mother. Despite this, though, the relationship I had with my father was probably the more complicated, and in some ways likely the most formative relationship I've ever had with anyone...and this is why.
My father had been brought up during the Depression years on the prairies, tough years to be alive let alone to be a child. He was raised by very traditional German parents, and though he didn't speak of it often I suspect his childhood had a brutal edge to it as his father drank heavily and believed in physical discipline. I always thought it remarkable then that my dad was such a gentle man. He was the sort of man loved by children and animals, which speaks volumes about character, I think. Children and animals can sense those who will treat them well, and they gravitated to my father. These vulnerable creatures know to whom to look for protection and love, and my father was that kind of man.
As a small child I don't remember much about my dad, to be honest. I remember most his musical talent, which I've written about before. As I grew older, though, he and I began to talk to each other and that's when my true memories of my dad begin. He may have not received much formal education but he was intelligent and remarkably astute. He had some ideas that seemed antiquated, but he was a very different generation from me (he was about 41 when I was born) so that seems to be expected. He also grew up in a rural setting while I grew up in the city, where we had moved when I was six, so we had very different perspectives on the world as we grew.
My dad, being the older and traditional sort, kind of had trouble saying the words "I love you". I never doubted his love, though. Why? Because he found ways to show it instead of saying it.
One of my dad's great loves was chocolate. When I was a child he and my mother would go grocery shopping and he would always buy two chocolate bars, one for him and one for me. Into the fridge they would go, and I would always know to look there when I needed a little chocolate (and fatherly) love. When I was in my late teen and early adult years I went through some difficult times, and on those weeks two chocolate bars meant for me would appear in the fridge. He didn't need to say any words - he knew when it was a two-chocolate bar kind of week for me.
He would often arrive home late after work with gifts for me. They were always unexpected things, like a new bike I didn't know I needed, or a cassette player. He would buy me things he knew I'd like, and while some may think this was some form of "buying my love" it was anything but. It was his way of saying that he knew me.
We didn't always get along, dear friends. We fought, as parents and children do, especially when I was a teenager. There were things he simply didn't understand, like the pink hair, the punk music, and the boys I chose to bring home (each designed to be more shocking than the last). He thought I was an unusual creature, no doubt, this youngest child of his who had more advantages than my sisters had ever had, and certainly far more than he had ever had.
When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer the bottom fell out of my world. I couldn't comprehend that this man could die - he had always been there, and I'd assumed he always would be. That assumption died a hard death, just as he did a few years later. I wish I could say death is a gentle and peaceful process but in my experience it is anything but that. It is painful. It is brutal. It is, whether expected or not, the end of something special, including hopes and dreams. I still cry when I think of my father in a palliative care bed. I likely always will.
When I met my the man who became my husband I never realized how much like my dad he is. He is intelligent and astute. He is gentle and loved by animals and children. He is musically talented. He spoils me with gifts and presents, too. Unlike my dad, though, he is free with words of love. The thing that strikes me most is that I married a man so much like my dad that it astonishes me. This is why I suspect that the relationship with my dad was the most formative of my life - it is the relationship that defined my future. It led me to my marriage, and then to my daughter as well. I look at my daughter and I imagine she will one day choose a man like her dad, and thus also like her grandfather. She couldn't be more lucky to find a man like these two men, dear friends. They are, despite their differences in their ability to express it, what all good fathers should be - ones who love their children completely, hopelessly, and forever.
One of my dad's favourites..