Advice, Knowledge And Insight For The Modern Man

A man on my men’s team recently sent back to me an email which I had originally sent him in 2009 around Fathers Day. What I had written was – –


“I spent the bulk of Father’s Day working. As you know (I think), I just got transferred to the Cambridge store (I’ve been there two weeks now). Kyle managed a “Happy Father’s Day,” as he rolled over in bed. Evan called from his mom’s and left me a brief (10 second) message. Didn’t see, or hear from, Anna (though I know she was thinking about me and the day; she always does).

While I was at work, I thought about how many other men (their number is legion)are experiencing fatherhood in a way totally unanticipated in their earlier hopes and dreams. Divorces, deaths, fuckups, illnesses, you name it. The “Leave it to Beaver” fantasy has been thoroughly ruined for lots of us (while, admittedly, unrealistic, we still had similar images of intact, happy families). The only thing we’ve got, in the end, is faith. Faith that we will have made a difference. We may not know for a long time, that’s for sure. I do know the incredible void of not growing up with a father. I know him more from his absence than anything else. Though his loss was from death, it still shows me that there just is no replacement, no matter where we look for it. But, we don’t get (nor should we expect) much from our kids, by way of acknowledgement. Not really even from the culture. We just have to believe other men who have been there before us and keep our noses to the grindstone, so to speak. I’m really glad, Michael, that Alex gave you that incredible gift. You deserve it, man.

 

“To my father, from whom I learned my work ethic.”

All this for a man who left him at the age of one and hardly saw him over all those years.

I cried my guts out when he told me.

I don’t know if I ever told you this story. I did carpentry with a buddy on the west coast who came from Denmark to the states about 25 years ago. When he came over, he left a wife and a one-year old boy. He was all fucked up with drugs at the time. His wife remarried, the boy stayed with her, and my friend only saw his son episodically over the years of his boyhood.

Anyway, three years ago, my friend (he was also on my men’s team for a while) went back to Denmark (with his own father) to see his son’s graduation from what is the Danish equivalent of our high school. At the reception, the boy made a toast to his father (my friend), saying “to my father, from whom I learned my work ethic.” All this for a man who left him at the age of one and hardly saw him over all those years.

I cried my guts out when he told me.

That kind of story is what keeps me going in the darkest times. I’m telling you, we have no idea of the impact we make, man. If we can just hold our heads up, keep going, and not quit on our kids, we’ll learn the whole story, later in life. For now, there’s only us fathers, learning together, giving each other our best.

I don’t feel like I’m having much of an impact on Kyle, Evan, or Anna, really. Not right now. I have to take it on faith, I guess.”

Michael sent me that because I had just emailed him some thoughts about my son’s visit here in May from Sweden, where he now resides with his wife and daughter, my first grandchild.

Here’s what I wrote the other day, nearly nine years later – –

“Wonderful day yesterday with respect to both weather and family.

We met at Buckminster Hotel (where my son Kyle and wife Christine and my nine-month old granddaughter Alicia have been staying),walked to, and ate at, Eataly in the Prudential Center and pushed on to the Public Garden, all abloom and with lines waiting for Swan Boats. I hadn’t been there for years, though I’ve lived here a long while now, the way people do (or, rather, don’t) when there are treasures in their own back yard. Walked along with a park ranger to use the bathroom in the T Station and in conversation he said he liked the job, after serving in the Navy, but there was way more law enforcement involved – drugs for example – than he had thought there would be.

He’s worked in the Public Garden for a year and, in answer to my query, said walking around in the winter pretty much sucks and there’s not much to do.

My daughter Anna was also with us after having dropped her cousin at Logan Airport and there were lots of photos with Alicia dead center (one with ducklings made Facebook later, care of Kyle). After trekking back to Kenmore Square we had a drink together (Anna had to leave) downstairs at Uno’s and bid our adieus and then, to avoid the worst 6 PM traffic northbound, Karen and I wandered around the Coolidge Corner Trader Joe’s (the store I first worked in, after returning from the Bay Area in 1996) and bought some stuff and walked slowly to use up some time.

So, we have all made the most of this trip the Swedes have taken her and I am grateful for family and how Alicia caused this, along with Kyle, and I’m grateful for a partner like Karen who steps up so graciously and generously and with such joie de vivre and fun.

For the tulips in the Public Garden and for Robert McCloskey and memories of Make Way for Ducklings and owning a children’s book store and that Anna was able to get up off the canvas after all of her substance issues and keep swinging and graduate and get accepted to the master’s program at Curry College and – this is hard to say – that she has had a mom like Janet, that they all have, to usher them through their major life events.

That’s shitty to admit, for sure (when I make it all about me), just as was Karen’s comment to Anna that we wouldn’t have come to the post-graduation dinner this Saturday because I had less to do with her graduation than her mom and we should let Janet have her celebration.

I was surprised at how much it stung, to hear Karen had said that, but it was also liberating in a strange way, in an Indiana Jones “I did what I did. You don’t have to be happy about it, but maybe we can help each other out now” kind of way.” Remember that scene with Karen Allen in her bar in Nepal?

 

 

The past is so dead and gone, no sense disinterring the body.

It did bother me, though, almost as if Karen were talking about her own dad and how he didn’t show up and mom was the hero, but it’s still dead history. Is this focusing on what I don’t/didn’t/won’t ever have, rather than what I do? It probably is.

It was good to be with Anna, just the same, and walking into Eataly and, seeing the balls of flour-dusted fresh long pasta behind the case, have her say “Remember when your friend worked at that pasta place?” And then I did recall how John (and she said “Right, it was John”) Molloy had done so at that place in Brighton, for a while, and it was like a little gift to me that she has some actual good memories of me and our relationship when she was younger. It always surprises me.

She has also long been a boxing fan because I used to take her to the gym with me when I trained. She graduated with a BA in sociology, just like I did. She used to poke me to wake me up when I’d get drowsy and fall asleep reading aloud to her in the dark by flashlight. We do have a history, even when I dismiss and forget about it. The photo here proves we have a history.

I’m not unique in my feelings about being a feckless, forgettable, fuckup, non-custodial father whom has been far out-shone by the mother to whom is now afforded the highest loyalty and regard and love. It’s easy to say “I get the crumbs” but, of course, that is melodramatic smelly whiny horseshit that doesn’t really help. I can choose to be grateful for what I do have and not compare or give in to envy and regret and instead look only at the horizon and the new day dawning and the photos of me with Alicia and in the larger family circle.

The truth shall, indeed, set you free, and I guess Karen just told a truth that is still painful, at times, if liberating.”