This will be the first fatherless Father’s Day for me. No one to have to call. No one to have to send last-minute cheap chocolate to. (Did you know Sears used to have a candy counter?)
My dad died in October. And two weeks before he died, we found out that in addition to bad chocolate he had a penchant for women other than my mom. I like to think they were bad women, as well. Think chocolate from Sears, while my mom was 100 percent Godiva. The news, of course, hit all six of his kids hard. He was about to go into hospice, and emotionally we were gearing up for his end, but now anger was seeping into the emotional mix, as well.
We all decided to keep my mom from the news. She is 83 and was saying goodbye to someone she thought was her one and only of 63 years.
My dad was an academic medical doctor who specialized in the hematopoietic system, which translates into blood. You got your red cells, your white cells and a whole lot of other good stuff that keeps you going. He was so articulate when he talked about the system, describing ribosomes as a beaded necklace and cilia as fat little fingers. He discovered something called the barrier cell that hangs out in the spleen. So, yes, his work mirrored his life. And, yes, you can go off into poetic discourse and analogy because as it turns out my dad studied what came out of the heart and subsequently created hardship and barriers, as well.
I am sure our story was like many others. Some parts, though, put us in the tabloid category. Apparently, there was one woman for more than 25 years.
And now it’s about to be Father’s Day. How do you mix that new womanizing information with my memories of Dad? I am not sure. As one of six kids, I remember there was always chaos and confusion and not a whole lot of individual time with my dad. But I was the first girl and, lucky for me, I was sickly, which forced him to spend alone time with me . . . waiting next to my hospital bed and driving, just the two of us, to so many doctor visits. I never believed I was his favorite, but I hoped I made it into the top three.
He was at all my birthday parties, but was he thinking about his love life? Was he faking his interest in my love of animals? When he talked about the merits of a bulldog or the beauty of a racing thoroughbred with me, was he thinking about how fast he could dump me and take off to his trysts? In other words, did he want to be with me, or for that matter with any of his kids? When I could have asked him, he was just too far gone mentally. His dementia didn’t erase all his memory but, almost worse, it erased his ability to speak. Cruel rewards for a man who took such pride in his words.
I am still unsure of the consequences of his death for me. The mourning process is very confusing because it was taken over by anger at him and at the way my mother eventually found out the news. So mourning was out of the question, at least to start with. Mourning in those early days was taken over by daily calls of comfort to my distraught mother. And to all of you out there who have lost a father, consider yourself lucky to have cried and allowed yourself to wallow in his memories.
This day, this holiday, does change things. I always pooh-poohed these holidays and resented them as merchandise-buying events. But for me, and I bet for my siblings, it forces us to think about Dad. It stirs up all kinds of thoughts about him, some positive now. I can see him in my mind’s eye walking across the street with my son, holding that little-boy ear because Daniel refused to give his grandfather his hand. I remember my father’s insistence on a moment of silence for John Lennon. . . . One of his hundreds of old typewriters on his lap. . . . Him holding out a nickel to me while he explained that he had bought me for that amount from the monkey house at the zoo. (Some would say we were both kind of simian.)
When I strain my mind, I can picture his face. It’s an older Dad. More gray hair and bushier eyebrows. I can remember his angry face when I showed up late or when he really wanted to leave a party for home and none of us was ready to go. I can see that angry face now. But thankfully, I can switch it off and see his face when he was laughing, and his smile was so wide it looked like a pumpkin-carved smile . . . just like a goon.
And on this Father’s Day, I now know how lucky I am to see that goon smile. I am going to allow myself all day to miss my father, faults included. And maybe with time and many other fatherless Father’s Days, I can get back my father the way I had wanted to remember him. And maybe the way he would have liked to be remembered.
As a dad.
Weiss is a freelance writer.