My father’s father was never my grandfather. He was Jack. I was eleven years old when I met him for the first time. He sat on the living room sofa next to his wife, Sylvia – my dad’s step mom. I have no memory of this meeting. I was probably doing cartwheels in the front yard with my friend Lisa Travis while my mother arranged the cheese platter she served for Jack and Sylvia. I have no recollection of the conversations that were had. It was my brother’s Bar Mitzvah in a few months. Inviting Jack and Sylvia to the house was a decision that precipitated what I later learned was an attempt at a reconciliation.
I don’t know who initiated this idea. I only knew stories of Jack. Jack disowning my father when he was seventeen. Jack remarrying Sylvia quickly after my grandmother passed.
(I was told) after the Bar Mitzvah my dad met Jack for coffee at a diner a few miles from both of their homes. I had no idea that Jack lived only a few towns away from where I grew up. Over coffee, Jack told my dad it was too much to be involved in our lives. My dad left the diner. It was the last time they would see each other.
He passed away several years ago. My dad did not go to his funeral.
When my dad turned eighty this year, I located an old journal that belonged to his mother. It was in the possession of his sister, my Aunt Joan, whom I only met a few times. I called her to procure the journal. Aunt Joan had a relationship with Jack. She also had a son about my age, my first cousin, whom I only met maybe once or twice. I know that he called Jack grandpa.
When I presented the journal to my dad for his birthday he said leafing through his mother’s perfect cursive, “I keep thinking how different life would be had she lived.” I have spent most of the days leading up to Father’s Day not thinking about my father as much as thinking about my husband and insuring his day is met with celebration and gratitude. I will send my dad a card, and call him first thing in the morning. If we lived closer, he would come over and there would be food and gifts and golf on TV.
I wasn’t thinking I would write anything about Father’s Day which makes me curious since I spent a bit of time curating a whole collection of poems in a special blog I wrote to honor Mother’s Day. My mother and I talk every day and have for almost my whole life. When I call and my father answers he hands the phone to my mom. She will fill him in later, I am sure, about our conversation.
My dad is not a big talker. He is not a touchy-feely guy. He can be grumpy and impatient and stubborn. He is generous to a fault. I inherited his long calves. The shape of his mouth. His ability to carry a tune. And his writing skills. I am delighted he will join my upcoming online writing course. It will be fun for us to connect through the words. Something that the two of us haven’t spent enough time doing in our lives.
Today’s reading I pulled from an extraordinary collection of famous letters written from father’s to their children. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes letter to his daughter at summer camp — a list full of wisdom on what is most important to know. The advice rings true for all of us, I think.
The second, a poem by David Whyte pulls us right into the interiority of a father carrying his daughter to bed. It gets me every time.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. To your sacrifices. To you playing second sometimes to the moms and being ok with that. To my father in particular who may be reading this — I love you dad.
Letter to his daughter, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (c. 1933).
Things to worry about:
Worry about courage Worry about Cleanliness Worry about efficiency Worry about horsemanship Worry about…
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion Don’t worry about dolls Don’t worry about the past Don’t worry about the future Don’t worry about growing up Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you Don’t worry about triumph Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault Don’t worry about mosquitoes Don’t worry about flies Don’t worry about insects in general Don’t worry about parents Don’t worry about boys Don’t worry about disappointments Don’t worry about pleasures Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at? How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship (b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them? (c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
MY DAUGHTER ASLEEP — David Whyte
Carrying a child, I carry a bundle of sleeping future appearances. I carry my daughter adrift on my shoulder, dreaming her slender dreams and I carry her beneath the window, watching her moon lit palm open and close like a tiny folded map, each line a path that leads where I can’t go, so that I read her palm not knowing what I read
and walk with her in moon light on the landing, not knowing with whom I walk, making invisible prayers to go on with her where I can’t go, conversing with so many unknowns that must know her more intimately than I do.
And so to these unspoken shadows and this broad night I make a quiet request to the great parental darkness to hold her when I cannot, to comfort her when I am gone, to help her learn to love the unknown for itself, to take it gladly like a lantern for the way before her, to help her see where ordinary light will not help her, where happiness has fled, where faith cannot reach.
My prayer tonight for the great and hidden symmetries of life to reward this faith I have and twin her passages of loneliness with friendship, her exiles with home coming, her first awkward steps with promised onward leaps.
May she find in all this, day or night, the beautiful centrality of pure opposites, may she discover before she grows old, not to choose so easily between past and present, may she find in one or the other her gifts acknowledged.
And so as I helped to name her I help to name these powers, I bring to life what is needed, I invoke the help she’ll want following those moonlit lines into a future uncradled by me but parented by all I call.
As she grows away from me, may these life lines grow with her, keep her safe, so with my open palm whose lines have run before her to make a safer way, I hold her smooth cheek and bless her this night and beyond it and for every unknown night to come.