I don’t celebrate Father’s Day. I have to remind Dave about dates, so he’s always late sending his Dad a card, because I never know when Father’s Day is until it’s here.
I’ve written about Dad a little bit here. Some people shocked me in comments by pointing out the obvious affection in these posts. But there’s also this. Since Mom and I moved out in 1987, Dad and I have been estranged. Before we moved out, I dreamed of being estranged. Life has turned out pretty well for me, I think because we are estranged.
One of my big projects this year has been to organize and digitize old photos. I spent countless (OK, about 40) hours alone in the dining room poring over the pictures. I had to decide which ones were good enough to digitize, carefully remove them from the albums, clean off the years of grime and fingerprints, and put them in chronological order.
This task dragged on for months, so I tried not to spend too much time really looking at the pictures and reminiscing since I knew I’d be able to do that after the pictures were digitized. But ignoring the nostalgic pull of the pictures proved impossible. Furthermore, I was overwhelmed by the photographic evidence of a bond between me and my Dad. A bond I guess I spent years denying because it made my life easier.
Here we are at my first birthday party. Apparently I was too young to adequately articulate I don’t like pink.
By my third birthday, I’d already graduated from Dad’s lap, but the look he’s giving me is still precious. And he’s also not wearing the same damn yellow shirt.
I noticed a big reduction in the number of pictures after my third birthday. I asked Mom about it, teasing her that documenting the second child’s life is less important. But Mom reminded me Dad lost his job around that time and she had to work full-time. She didn’t really have time for pictures after that, thank you very much.
So that’s when things really went down the shit hole. The family lore includes a tale of my trying on shoes when I was three. When Dad asked me how the shoes felt, I apparently responded by kicking him really hard in the shin. So I always thought my relationship with Dad was strained from an early age.
But these early pictures weren’t shocking. I don’t even remember these times and all young children go through a Daddy phase. The next picture really surprised me. This is my Gram on my Mom’s side, Dad, and me in my First Communion get up five years after the last picture. When I uncovered this one, I don’t know how long I sat staring at it in tears. I was in third grade. Clearly I already hated Dad by this point, right? Huh.
The next two pictures are from middle school. Dad and I spent several days after a big snowstorm building a complicated, three-room snow fort in the backyard. Let’s face it, Dad built a snow fort. The second picture I took from the hallway window on the second floor of our toasty house after I’d given up manual labor in the freezing cold. Dad kept working by himself to finish the fort.
I cried when I saw these pictures. I cried in part because I let myself feel bitterness at not having the kind of father all kids deserve. I was so relieved to be free of Dad at 14, that I never allowed myself to grieve being essentially fatherless. I also cried in part out of sadness for Dad, who clearly loved us but could not stop the destructive behavior that drove us away.
Unfortunately, this post doesn’t end with an emotional reconciliation. Dad’s not capable of having a relationship with me. The few times I’ve tried to reach out to him, he’s made me sorry I did. The last time was pretty recent and the freshness of it must have fueled my emotional response to these pictures.
I looked through the pictures a little with my Mom when she brought them down in March, but I could feel myself getting tearful, so I did most of it by myself. At one point while Mom and I flipped pages, I thought “Dad loved me.” But I must have said it out loud, because Mom’s surprised response was, “Of course he did.”