Father's Day– 2009

Well, here it is, Father’s Day– a celebration invented, no doubt by either some publicity-seeking politician or the owner of a chain of department stores looking to boost sales. It?s always possible, of course, that it had a more touching beginning. But however it began; it does arouse feelings in a great many people…
Walking on Broadway this morning I saw some obvious parties sitting at the outdoor tables of restaurants–clearly there to honor their father. And, in the space of one block, I heard two separate cell-phone conversations–a forty-ish woman and a man in his early twenties, wishing their fathers happy Father’s Day…

As with many of these celebration days?again, no matter how mercenary or mundane their origin might have been? (Mother’s Day, etc.), its something that has, over the decades, attained the level and status of an important human ritual– something that taps into the a very deep emotional well…
In this case, either your father is near you and want to let him know he isn’t/wasn’t taken for granted– or he’s not with you, separated by distance or mortality. You might take the opportunity to get in touch by phone or e-mail; or, if he died, you find yourself remembering him… with whatever personal set of images and feelings arise in your heart and mind.

Obviously, you don’t need a special, “official” day to remember your father. Maybe, for better or for worse, you never stop thinking about him… This certainly happens with people who are stuck in their angry/sad pasts or when some circumstance thrusts your father back into your life– he’s engaged in some big change in his life, has just achieved something memorable, or he’s in some kind of difficulty or he?s sick or dying…
Or maybe, as with most people, he just pops up in your mind now then–the thought or feeling stimulated by something that touches your sight, hearing, smell, touch, or taste…
I remember reading a book to my kids when they were very little– a famous children’s book, the title of which I don’t remember now (could it have been ?Pat The Bunny??)… This was probably the first (or one of the first); “interactive” books for kids. Every page had something on it that a kid could touch?for instance, a fluff of cotton as a bunny?s fur.

There was one that always affected me more than the others— A page showing a father’s face with his “scratchy” beard (Dad was either getting ready to shave or taking extra testosterone and had a bristly black bit of beard on his face). The text was something like: “Feel Daddy’s scratchy beard.”
?Pat the Bunny? (if that’s that right book) was a wonderful thing to use with your very little kids– The actual sense of touch went so much deeper than a lot of other books that had the usual text or pictures…

Every time I showed that page to my kids and they reached to touch the book Daddy’s scratchy beard, (and then, sometimes to touch my actual scratchy beard) it twisted my heart more than a little. It was something, that if I ever did it with my father, I don’t remember?
I have one old picture of myself as very young child, sitting next to my father while he was reading me a book. But, generally, he was definitely not the type to sit patiently and affectionately reading children’s books to his kids.

My childhood experience of my father and, indeed, my entire life’s experience with him were completely different than my experience with my mother. With her it was vastly and chaotically complicated; with my father it was simple. In my life my father was defined almost entirely by his abscense.

When I think of my father, at whatever period of my life– In fact, even now, when he’s bee dead almost 35 years, I think of him either going away or gone– He was always gone to work each morning, or going away on trips. Then, when I was four years old, he was gone for good–and spent the rest of his life either being far away or getting ready to go someplace else far away.
In fact, even during the few years I had him with me, he was more or less gone. My father was not meant to be anyone’s father. He was a hard-working, responsible man who provided a house and clothing and food–and more– to his children but emotionally he was almost completely incapable of being a father… He was always angry or sad or itching to out of the house and away from these demanding people that never seemed to leave him alone.
Why my father was that way, I can only speculate and piece together from whatever I know of his childhood… But the fact was, he was defined 90% by his absence…. To this day, I have a hole inside me, an aching, sobbing, emptiness when I think of him or even picture him.
When he wasn’t around, even when he was just at work for the day, I felt as if I was in suspended animation–just waiting for him to come home… He was a big, hearty, vibrant man, and when he showed up at the end of the work-day, it was a tremendous joy to see him and have him pick me up–all the way, it seemed, into the sky. And I remember– I remember his scratchy beard as I hugged him and put my face on his.

When I think of him now– getting ready to board a plane to God-knows-what foreign destination, or getting in his car to go to his other, later family after visiting me for a random, divorced afternoon…
I see him leaving, always leaving– walking out the door a thousand times, or driving or flying off… And I see his big, ruddy face, his troubled brown eyes, and his heavy five-o-clock-shadow of bristles; which later, in the years before his early, untimely death, was salt-and-pepper… Daddy?s scratchy beard…
I see him always, going away, his child-delight smile fading; caught in a wash of feelings he couldn’t seem to understand or control.

My always-leaving father finally left for good– suddenly and violently, a long, long time ago, but today, as on many other days, I remember him. And I am filled not just with the usual, tired anger that does me no good any more, or even the more familiar emptiness that will always ache?like a bad wound that throbs when the weather is bad…
Today, I am filled too with a enveloping warmth– when I picture his big body and equally big personality, taking over whatever space he occupied, his great passion for living ?and I see his face once again; the ever-present cigar clamped in his teeth, his eyes, for this moment, smiling, and, always, his scratchy beard–waiting for me to reach up and touch it.

– Mike Feder (New York City – June 21, 2009)

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