I have major father issues. My parents divorced when I was six or seven, right after I recovered from a year spent in bed with rheumatic fever. My mom packed us up and we--my two sisters, little brother, grandmother, and aunt--moved from Freeport, Illinois to Estes Park, Colorado. I vaguely remember my father coming to visit in the summers, but I have no memory of any details.
I do remember that, even as a seven year old kid in second grade, I was deeply embarrassed by the fact of my parents' divorce. I explained my father's absence to my new friends by telling them that he was an assistant football coach at Notre Dame and had to stay in South Bend for his work.
Mostly, I have almost no concrete memories of my father and the few I do have I have already shared in these pages. Therefore, I have always been surprised when I hear men talking about their father issues. I have heard and read reports of men my age with their eyes brimming talking about going to ball games with their old man, going fishing with their old man, learning to use tools with their old man, getting disciplined by their old man. I have nothing like that in my memory bank.
I know that when I watch a movie like "Field of Dreams," I'm supposed to cry when Kevin Costner "has a catch" with his father's apparition at the end of the movie. I know I'm supposed to read father/son memoirs that inevitably crop up on days like this and be moved. I'm not. I'm also supposed to worry that, since I don't have any of these feelings, I am avoiding my problems by not facing up to them.
That might be so. But I developed my own coping mechanisms when I was a kid trying to grow up in a house with one little brother and five older women. Instead of having one father, I had an endless supply of father figures. I never much gravitated toward any of my mother's dates and subsequent husbands, although Stewart, a salesman from England, taught me about poetry, John Donne in particular. My Aunt Annie's husband, Carl, acted like my friend. We talked about politics and business and sports. He taught me--tried to teach me--to play baseball. I spent a summer with him in Oklahoma City helping him put in a yard in his new home. My sister Mary Jo's husband, Dick, taught me how to drive a tractor and a back hoe and generally how to act like a man. My sister Jeri's succession of husbands combined to teach me how to smoke a pipe while driving a Mustang convertible, play basketball, read Joseph Heller, play guitar, and drink. I was like a little pack rat and I took something from every man who came along.
The bottom line here is that no one really taught me how to be a father first hand. I had Jim Anderson, Andy Taylor, Ward Cleaver, and Fred McMurray for that. All those guys handled fatherhood with aplomb. They never felt overwhelmed, or when they did it was always a funny kind of overwhelmed, something to laugh about in retrospect.
But being a father is in fact overwhelming. Sure, one can still find things to laugh about, but not necessarily at the end of every episode.
That's how I feel today. That's why I'm writing this even though I smashed the hell out of my right middle finger while working on a deck the other day and it hurts every time I hit the letter I or K. Everybody says that when you get older, your worries get fewer. That just hasn't been my experience. When I was a young man, I had the same worries and concerns and dreams as all the other young men I knew. When I had children, those worries doubled. When those children had children, those worries tripled. I don't think my worries are going to quadruple because I will be too old to remember who anyone is once I have great grandchildren.
Without going into gruesome detail, there are many things weighing me down today. A leak developed in our kitchen while we were in Puerto Vallarta and now we are in a construction site with plastic sheets covering up our kitchen while folks get rid of mold, redo floors, and replace dry wall. I feel like my house is being slowly raped. That's the first thing I think about at night when I can't sleep. I also lie awake worrying about Nate and Ashley in Los Angeles. I worry about Chris and Christine's latest business venture. I worry about Franny and Ken and their long term goals. And of course, I rotate through the grandkids and all the worry that entails.
I just want everybody I love to be happy and wildly successful. Whenever one of them gets sick, or frustrated, or angry, or sad, I get sick, frustrated, angry, and sad too. So tell me again, why do we celebrate this day?
Please don't! You're thinking about all the rewards of fatherhood. The cute moments. All the nights watching the kids perform. The warm memories. The laughter around the table. The grandchildren shivering with excitement over new possibilities. You don't have to tell me about all that. Those rewards happen all the time. I can't stop them. I celebrate them daily, hourly. So, tell me again, why do we celebrate this particular day?