Thoughts On Father’s Day
For Father’s Day, everyone will be buying gifts — socks, after-shave, golf balls — and cards that represent, more or less, how they feel about their dads.
My dad died in 1992, so I am off the proverbial hook. But many relatives and friends eulogize their dead fathers on Facebook. For my part, I remain silent.
Even in middle age, I am still conflicted about my dad.
He was larger than life, at home and in public. Everything he did was big, whether that was spending money on dinner out or voicing his displeasure at a mistake.
As the oldest child, I got to go places with him that my younger siblings did not. When I was nine, he took me to a field day event at an orphanage, Little Flower Children’s Home.
He was great with kids, and these orphans touched his heart. He played games with them, gave out awards, made them laugh. One little girl followed him around all day. When it was time to go home, I felt she wanted to come with us.
He took me to political rallies. Once, while campaigning for a local candidate, he drove several musicians and enthusiastic supporters around on the back of a flatbed truck. It was a Saturday, and we went through the main streets of small towns and shopping centers. The band played, “You Are My Sunshine” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” while the rest of us sang and Dad spoke through a megaphone.
While I was growing up, Dad had lots of jobs: restaurant manager, luncheonette owner, bookkeeper, delivery man, supervisor. When I was old enough, he sometimes took me to work with him.
At Brookhaven National Laboratory, he was a supervisor on a project, called the “Bubble Chamber.” He and his crew monitored the hydrogen activity inside the nuclear reactor via data on computer monitors. The computer itself, in the 1960s, was the size of my kitchen.
One time, we recorded a skit for his crew’s Christmas party. In the bathroom with his reel-to-reel recorder, we used funny voices to act as nuclear particles, having a conversation while the bathtub was running.
Dad was fun, but I was afraid of him.
My father weighed hundreds of pounds, and he was loud. He got angry easily. He yelled at us kids, as well as my mom. He was adept in the art of ridicule. I did my best to stay on his good side, so I ran errands for him, gave him my attention and maintained good grades in school.
Funny, my sisters and brother saw me as his pandered favorite child and, in some ways, that’s true. I treasure many of the things we did together. But, in order to maintain our close relationship, I became someone else, the person he wanted me to be.
I never saw him become physically violent, but I know of times when he did, and it’s not pretty. He did some terrible things, things I cannot forget.
In our last real conversation together, he tried to convey how much he loved me and my siblings. My stepmother said later that he found it difficult to say “I’m sorry,” but that he showed it in other ways. Maybe he was trying to apologize.
He did, later on in life, join the Catholic church. He was good friends with his elderly parish priest. Perhaps the confession was good for his soul. I hope he made peace with God.
If only I could make my peace with him.
Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at RuralPen@aol.com, on Facebook or care of the DN-R