You seldom get to see the person your father was. You forget that he was ever anything more or less than the boom of his words or the deafening quiet when there were none. The fact that he laughed or cried was beyond your understanding in as much as a single tree could be oblivious to the forest of which it is a part. He was Zeus. He carried the lightning bolt - at once wielding protective blessings and wrathful indifference. But he was something else before that. He was a boy.
When my father died several years ago, I discovered, in the trove of pictures and keepsakes through which his children waded, a sweet note that he had written to his grandparents during the summer of 1943. He was clearly very young and was missing his extended family. The text, otherwise, revealed little else. But I could hear his voice in those words and was struck by the childish innocence in them. I had never known my father to be innocent of anything. He was a loud, boisterous man who was full of opinions, but was as likely prone to deep belly laughs and a love of food and culture. This man wore his Ph.D. like a Texas belt buckle - out front and proud. He had been everything I was not. Or so I had believed.
My parents divorced when I was young and drama was a natural constant in our family life. For the most part, however, they made it work and my siblings and I were never deprived of the fundamentals. But when I became a parent, something bizarre happened. The Great Judge Almighty was born. I came to the gospel of fatherhood like a believer in search of a flock and began calling into question every single decision my own Dad had ever made. I was probably not wrong on much of what I had found, but the zeal with which one can look past another - to conveniently forget who they are - is a little frightening. I didn't have to agree with the man. But I didn't have to throw away the last 25 years of our time on the same planet either.
Finding the child that my father was in the remains of his belongings was a gift. It gave me my Dad back in a way that I could no longer judge. I now had a moment of his innocence to add to the picture that had developed throughout my life. I don't know if I could have changed the way we interacted in these last few years, but at least I would have been aware of a larger truth. The fact is it's easy to sit behind the shield of his death and make pronouncements. He can no longer offer up his own opinion. But on a day set aside to recognize fathers for their importance, is it not appropriate to admit that my lack of perfection is a least as grand as was his?
My obnoxious father loved me until the end, even across the distance that I placed between us. We, who have rolled and reveled in the pigsty of glorious judgment, should be so lucky.
I wish you luck and joy in rediscovering the Zeus in your family on this Father's Day. Understanding is a blessing, but honesty with oneself? That, my friends, is a gift that only you can give.
Book 3 in the series is scheduled to be released in December 2021.