Today is Father’s Day – my fourth without my dad. Wow! That does not seem possible.
My dad and I had a good relationship. Never distant, never cold, but often guarded. We didn’t always “get” one another. For my part, I was always afraid that I was a disappointment – the first-born son who was small, near-sighted, and – yes – gay. By contrast, Dad was a guy who’d survived a dusty Wyoming childhood in the 30’s and 40’s, lost his mom to cancer at nine, moved to Alaska on a bet, served as a Seabee in the Korean War, loved to hunt and fish and could build or fix almost anything. He was a regular guy and I clearly was not.
Still, even while I worried, we had some great times. I remember him tucking me in once when I was about three years old. I reached up and put my hands on both sides of his five-o’clock-shadowed face and marveled at the roughness. This led into a long talk about how one day I, too, would have whiskers. I was fascinated and incredulous at the thought. Then he kissed me goodnight. Dad puckered up so much he seemed to turn his lips inside out. His kisses were always sloppy, but that was just Dad.
Like a lot of gay kids of the time, I would up being closely associated with my Mom. We shared a love of old movies and big band music and I was happier to be artlessly whipping something up in the kitchen while singing some Judy Garland standard at the top of my lungs than helping to build a fence in the backyard or sitting in a fishing boat at 5:00 am. (Though I did do those things and I’ve retained a lot of knowledge from them. Thanks Dad.)
Then something strange happened. One day my brother gave me his spin on my relationship with my dad. He said, “You think you two don’t talk because you’re so different. You don’t talk because you’re exactly alike.”
Son of a bitch.
After I got over being just a little bit ticked off that my little brother was right, it all fell into place. My dad was the artist, the dreamer, the adventurer. My mom appreciated those traits, but they all came to me from him. He was the one who made art pieces out of deer hide and antique pieces for our den. He was the one who liked to take art photos. He was even my theater connection, having played Uncle Chris in “I Remember Mamma” in his senior year of high school.
I also realized that, like me, his feelings were easily hurt and that we could probably trace our distance to a million little slights we’d unknowingly and unintentionally visited on one another over the years.
Son of a bitch!
Lucky for me, that was about ten years before Dad passed away, so I had the chance to make up for lost time. We started spending lots of time together. We had father-son dinners at restaurants that served exotic cuisine that he’d never tried before. We hung out and just talked. We even talked about why we didn’t used to talk. I started hugging him whenever I’d see him and even got some of those sloppy kisses once in awhile. (Of course we were men, so those were infrequent.) Most important, I started making sure I told him I loved him. I’d told Mom all along, but Dad and I had let that fall by the wayside, too.
I miss him every day. I even get choked up unexpectedly sometimes when I think of him. But I’m happy knowing we didn’t have any unfinished business and that I told him I loved him the last time we spoke.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.