Dads and Their Effect on Us – Happy Father’s Day – June 2013
“My father is very supportive, and cares a lot about me.”
“My father was an asshole, and he physically and emotionally tortured me and my sisters and brothers.”
“My father was sweet, and depressed, and distant. He did his best not to harm us, and so he kept himself away from us.”
“My father is exceedingly loving and loyal within his own system of damage.”
How would you finish the sentence, “My father is…”?
When we think about the effects our parents had on us, we most often speak of, have in mind, and read about mothers. When I am teaching, men often ask, “and what about fathers?”
My father died two and a half years ago, and in the months after his death, I was pursued by a terrible exhaustion. My body was filled with a heavy lassitude, and naps would overtake me like the shadows of trees moving over a silent field. It was a wordless, orphaned place. The world’s meaning and its backbone had suddenly disappeared. I was surprised, felled, stunned by my loss. This man, who had built me ice slides and ironed the slide surface shiny with an electric iron when I was three, who had played hide and seek with me until I dissolved in giggles when I was eight, who had been my most beloved playmate, had virtually stopped talking to me when I turned nine, and remained a distantly warm but silent and non-committal presence in my life until he died, forty years later. I had thought I was long over his loss. I did not expect to mourn.
There was a day in hospice before my dad died, when I sat beside his bed as he tried over and over again to swing his legs off the bed to stand without strength to support himself, and I put my feet up on the bed beside his, and moved them to stop him, saying “no, dad.” He didn’t have much coherence left in those days, but he was able to ask “Goddamnit, Sarah, why no?” and somehow between us, in that direct connection which we had not had in so many years, the joy of being with him resurfaced, and that strange day brought the gift of resurrection of my childhood memory of him.