Sunday, June 19, 2005

"Oh My Papa...

...to me he was so wonderful."

My dad loved this Eddie Arnold song. His own father--when he was around, was a shitty excuse for a man. But somehow, in spite of having a horrendous role model, mine turned out to be an exemplary and principled father, and the golden standard by which I measure all men. In the immense shadow of my dad, all other men fall short.

Dad wasn't perfect, but I was aware, even at a young age, that this was a human being in progress. A confirmed and practicing Catholic, he was never dogmatic about my religious instruction. He never professed to know it all, he was always seeking, learning, discovering, and it was ok that my brother and I were there to witness it.

Dad grew up during the depression in Abbington, Massachusetts. When his father abandoned the family, Dad was just five-years-old. He, his two younger sisters and brother were sent to orphanages, and then to live with families who had the means to take on destitute children.

I grew up listening to stories of hunger, beatings, isolation, and the uncertainty of being forever separated from family and not knowing where the next home would be and what cruelty or kindness the next family would exhibit.

My father dropped out of school when he was 16, and joined the CCCs to support his siblings and mother. He gave up an education to keep the family from being separated yet again. In spite of his lack of a formal education, Dad had a voracious appetite for books and a sharp mind. He took advantage of some of the courses offered by the government while he was in the Navy, and he kept a journal durning World War II, which reveals a surprisingly articulate writer and a gifted communicator.

Had my father lived long enough, he may have told me that he had always wanted to be a writer too. We might have had discussions about books-- literature and poetry, and about true crime and biographies. And certainly we'd have spirited conversations about religious books and ideas.

I didn't get to know my dad as an adult, like I did my mother. We get two sets of parents, I think. The guardians of our childhoods and the friends of our grown years. I have to piece together my dad as a friend from my memories, scrapbooks and old soundless, home movies, and stories I've heard from my mother and his family.

I think I'd discover--were Dad here to compare notes-- how very much like him I've grown to be. That I harbor just a fleck of his optimism in my being, and all of his love for animals and militant sense of justice--it's there too.

I think he'd be really pleased. And even if I turned out differently, I know--without a moment's doubt--that he'd embrace me with every particle of his boundless and unconditional love. It never mattered how well or how poorly I behaved or performed as a child--I never doubted Dad's love. He loved me just because I existed and he told me so, every day of my life until he died.

It's OK to wonder about everything else.

Happy Father's Day.



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