Yesterday was Father’s Day, and by coincidence, today marks eleven months exactly since my own dad passed away.
I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. One of my strongest memories from my teen years was standing outside in our backyard on a summer evening, grilling. He loved to grill. A bigger fan of the basic Weber kettle grill, one may never find.
So yesterday, being Father’s Day, I decided to get some good steaks, and that calls for the Weber. I do have a small gas grill that works fine for some things, but for steaks, I prefer the old fashioned charcoal. And my oldest son, who is 18 and a pretty decent cook himself, volunteered to cook everything: Black Angus delmonico steaks, corn on the cob, and potatoes. Hey, I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid. Fire it up, young man!
So I sat on our patio, with my son cooking. This was the first time all year we’d used the Weber. I poured myself a gin and tonic, and relaxed, and thought back 30 years or more to more innocent times, when it seemed like nothing could ever change. Shows how little I knew. As the years went by, he moved out of that house, got divorced, moved in with an old flame, and lived very happily for a few years. Then some personal demons took over, and he lost control of his life, and eventually split up with her, and had to move into a little apartment by himself. There he descended into a depression, and cocooned himself into this little world where he left only to do “volunteer” work at the hospital (aka, “community service”) and to sometimes come to my house, when I could convince him to come over, or to meet friends once in a while.
My dad was always very gregarious. Quick to smile, liked to meet people, good with small talk. He was a salesman, and pretty good at it. How did that man, that I knew and admired as a kid, turn into this one, all alone and afraid of the world? I’ve gained some clues over the last year or so, by going through his stuff, and learning some secrets he held for many, many years.
And even if some things about my Dad were apparently not very admirable, I can’t focus on things he did outside of his sphere of influence on me. I can’t pretend that transgressions in his personal life, away from parenting, are just as important to me, or to my well-being, as any potential flaws he had as a parent to me. They just aren’t. And the flaws were minor, and nothing unusual, I’m sure. We all have weaknesses, and sometimes they come out in our parenting, and there is not much any of us can do about it, except try to minimize it. He treated me very well, and I knew that he liked having me around.
I just wish he’d been better equipped to transition into later life. Some men love being Grandpa, and are energized by kids, and like to engage with them. My Dad wasn’t one of them. He tried, but to be frank, not very hard. He sent cards on birthdays, and at Christmas, and he showed up at the occasional little league game, but he’d go months without calling, and basically missed watching his first-born grandson grow up. I’m really not sure how to wrap my brain around that. By the time my two younger kids were born, Dad was already on his downward slide, and it was really too late for him, I now know. So all three of my kids will have grown up with no real relationship with their Grandfather, my Dad, who I remember being so fun and lively.
What does this all mean? Lots of things, and only some of them are understood by me today, but mainly this: our parents are often not the people we think they are. But despite that, the most important thing is the side they do show us, and that part, for me, from both my Mom and my Dad, was good.
So I look back 30 and 40 years, and picture my life then, and now, and try to connect the dots. How did the man that I knew and admired as a kid, turn into that other one, all alone and afraid of the world, and isolated from his only son’s family? I wish I knew. I have my ideas, but still, I wish I knew. But even if I did know, it wouldn’t bring him back.
And I do miss him. Gone is gone.
The reasons why, they sort of fade away, after a while, leaving nothing but longing.