After that, though?
It was Father’s Day. THAT was my focus.
From then on, it was just you and me kid.
When I was 7, I gave you your first Mother’s Day card. It was one of the few, very few, times that my grandmother never second-guessed me. There are times that I wish(ed) she would have been that open in other instances …
At first you were confused. But the confusion turned to a smile once you saw what my second grade handwriting said. And then that smile turned to a grimace, a happy grimace nonetheless, as you tried to hide the tears.
Every year thereafter not only did I celebrate you on Father’s Day, you were also lauded on the day reserved for Mother’s. Because that’s what you were to me. Most people didn’t understand … “Uhm, yeah, okay … why are you getting a Mother’s Day card for your Dad?”
“Because.” And really?
That’s all I could say.
You either got it, or you didn’t.
Many years after Mom died, I realized that not only were you “Dad”, you also had to fill the role of “Mom”. A small part of me understood that when I first unintentionally got you that first Mother’s Day card. I didn’t know what I was doing then, but later I did. And once I realized that? My heart opened, and then broke. And then? You kept receiving cards. It was no longer “Mother’s” cards, or “Father’s” cards … you got cards. Just because. Because, yes, you were my Father. But you were also my Mother. But most of all? You were my parent.
You were Pops.
There you were, a young, handsome, and virile man. Left floating, seemingly alone, by the death of your “one”. Adrift, with a small child clinging to you. A needy, artistic, and needy child clinging to you for dear life, when all YOU wanted was to be left to do that … float adrift. Drift away.
Thinking back upon that now, as an adult, I must admit this …
I honestly don’t know how you did it.
You admitted that there was another love before Mom. You told me that when you felt I could actually hear it. And I did. Yes, I was hurt. That hurt came from a child’s understanding, a child’s outlook. (“What do you mean? There was ANOTHER woman before Mom?) The child hurt, but the adult understood. The adult felt.
However, the child (and adult) still twinges a bit when she looks upon this photo …
(Am I a horrible person to say that I am so glad that she ISN'T my mom?)
But this adult (and child) is ecstatically happy to realize that she broke your heart. (No, shush. I am NOT happy she broke your heart. But I AM happy to realize that she broke you just enough so that you could meet Mom. And so that you and Mom could meet as partners.)
Your side of the family (my family), says that there are two of you – the pre-Vietnam Chris, and the after-Vietnam Chris.
As much as I would have loved to have known you pre, you wouldn’t be “Dad” to me if you weren’t also the after. I mean … that’s all I knew.
The “pre-Chris” loved his family, and looked after his sister. Yes, he was a bit free, and a bit naive. Always searching for the next wave.
The “after-Chris” was mostly the same but with harder, and sharper, edges. (Still searching for that ever elusive wave, though.) The pre would have tried to talk sense into his brother-in-law, for being too hard on his sister. The after was the one who went searching for the same brother-in-law, gun in hand, for abusing his baby sister. (Thankfully, the after never found him. Otherwise, I would never be here.)
You know what though? I kinda like the “after” …
I saw the sadness, and desperation, in your eyes. Not only was it seen, it was felt.
From you I have learned how to love. I’m not talking about loving family just because they are blood, or loving friends just because they are there… yes, you taught me that. You also showed me what it was to open yourself up fully. To splay yourself, your emotions, your core. To open yourself up to the unknown. You have shown me that you CAN do that.
And you showed me that you can reap those benefits. The benefits being that you reap what you sow ...
... Mom loved you so much ...
... So did I. So do I ...
You have also shown me that when you do that, you leave yourself open to heartache. It’s a heartache I never want to experience. Ever. At least, not in the way that you did.
Until I became headstrong in my teenage years, we were tight. Tight.
Once we gained some space, some distance, only then could we become friends again. For me being an asshole teenager … I apologize. I know you understood, but still. I am sorry. I KNOW you did much worse than I ever did (hell, you even told me of some of your exploits!) But still?
I am sorry.
If there ever comes a day when I do have kids (a day which I hope for, but feel will never happen), I can only hope to be like you. Yes, I do want to be like Mom, juts a little. But mostly?
If I had to choose the parent to emulate, it would be you.
After Mom died, I know you were lost. And I understood that you would have gone away as well … if it wasn’t for me. (And, no, that’s not ego speaking – maybe I was just a responsibility at first, because of grief. But later? After the initial heartbreak? “It was just you and me, kid”.)
But still? Helllloooooooooooo Catholic Guilt ™!
After though… you morphed from Dad into Pops. And I turned from “god damnit! Ann Marie!” into “Bubba”. Or “Bub”.
When you were alive, I never actually liked, or understood, The Beatles. But after you went? I really did try to understand why you loved them so. It took me a while, though. And now?
Now I get it. (Strawberry Fields still flips me the fuck out. I doubt that will ever change. I still sit at that same table, in the same kitchen, and Strawberry Fields still strikes in that same visceral way. Yes, I “get” it now. It still makes me uneasy. And now? Okay … *shrug*)
You and I … we do share genetics. But now, we also share a love of the Fab Four.
When someone says yesterday … I understand it on my level. But I also understand it on yours. And I really do think that is the legacy you left to me. There ARE shadows …
And if you were still here? I would say this to you: the shadows are really the dark parts. Know them. Appreciate them. Roll in them. But please, don’t live in them. Instead, allow them to serve as contrast. As a foil, to the light that you lived.
A light you had so much of.
A light that burned too bright. And too fast. A light that was extinguished too soon.
I can believe in yesterday … and now? I CAN move on to tomorrow.
But only because of you.
I love you, Dad. Granted, I may be away this weekend following my own passion, but I think you may, just may, understand that. You will never be far from my mind.
This Sunday I will raise my camera, and a glass, and wish you nothing but a slipper tail lobster, some 7&7, and know (hope) that Mom is by your side to share it with you. (And then? In my mind, she will make fun of you. With some inside joke that only the two of you know the punchline to.) When the two of you are laughing ... I hope I catch just the faintest whiff of scent ... Shalomar and Cinnamon for her, with just a touch Old Spice for you. Even though I know you hated it.
And then? Then I will smile. And laugh. And then I will cry through my own inside joke. Damn the rest!
Happy Father's Day Pops ... wherever you may be.