A couple of post-Father’s Day items to make us all cry. The first comes from Tiffany Thompson and appeared in The Toronto Standard, a funny, honest, and ultimately incredibly touching account of a father-daughter relationship “Disappointing Dad: Reflections on Father’s Day”. One part Protestant guilt, three parts Grace equals more than an echo of heavenly dynamics. Of course, for maximum impact, read the whole thing. For the Reader’s Digest version, look no further, ht SJ:
My dad is one of the most calm, intelligent and selfless people that I know. I’m prone to hysterics and attempt to hide my stupidity by using big words. He is the barometer of everything that is wise and good in the world: I’m the high Chancellor of Bad Choices. He has a strong, unshakeable faith tempered with a high degree of critical contemplation. I waffle about everything. He pays for everything outright, always paying off his debts. I’m terrible with money. He works his butt off. He’d work all day running his accounting practice, come home for dinner, allow himself a few minutes of dozing in front of the baseball highlights, then back to work. He’d take us on big family road trips every year; New Hampshire, BC, Halifax, Florida, Chicago, Virginia, Maine, Calgary. He enrolled me in whatever passing whim possessed me; ballet, horseback riding, piano lessons, guitar lessons, swimming, gymnastics. He’d come to my ball games and my stupid house recitals, proud of me.
Unfortunately, I was bona fide hell spawn. I repeatedly tried to run away from Bible Camp in upstate New York and had to be put on special night watch. Once when my parents refused to buy me ice cream, I grabbed an ice scraper and and started swinging it like a baseball bat at the car’s leather interior. When they saw the decimated seats, my butt was greeted with the blunt end of a wooden spoon. I’d holler; “It doesn’t hurt! Hit me harder!”…
Things only worsened after I turned 14. I snuck around and got up to all sorts of no good – ‘experimenting’. I took issue with everything he said and did for me. Sasha became the surrogate daughter after I flew the coop. A border collie/german shepherd with floppy bat ears, she’s never fundamentally disappointed my father the way I have, especially after announcing when I was 14 that I didn’t want to go to church anymore.
I’m sure I’ve been an unending disappointment. My brother and I used to joke about our market value rising and falling in conjunction with our behavior and life decisions. “Tiff dropped out of school. Stock crumbling”, or “Dave’s getting married, grandchildren possible – stock skyrockets”.
At my younger brother’s wedding, I felt useless and old and bogged down with Protestant guilt. Unemployed, unmarried, childless, with nothing to show for my existence save for a few lousy paintings and an overstretched line of credit. My dad has never let me down, and I felt like that was all I ever did. Dad got up to say his speech. I braced myself for thinly veiled advice. But then: he thanked us. He thanked my brother and I for exposing him to a world of people and ideas that he never would have known without us. He said that we had taught him so much. And he thanked us. I wanted to cry.
This is how it goes: You idolize him as the best, most handsome man in the world who gives you rides on his shoulders and buys you new black hi-top shoes that make you feel invincible. The unavoidable trundle towards huge screwups. The awkward self-conscious hugs after you’ve developed boobs. The pronouncement that you hate him and he knows nothing. Going to school and giving him hope that you’re going to make it and then messing up large. Calling, sobbing, after you’ve been dumped again and think that your whole life is a waste, only to hear: “Dear, you are my only precious daughter and I love you and you could never, ever be a mistake.”
The second is the opening passage of John Updike’s “My Father’s Tears,” which appeared in The New Yorker a few years before his death (and bears an uncanny resemblance to brand new Onion headline, “Dad Proud Of You; Won’t Say It, But It’s True”) The story itself contains more than a few zingers about Unitarianism, but it is Updike’s ruminations on his own father, which come at the beginning and the end, which are so touching, ht DJ:
Come to think of it, I saw my father cry only once. It was at the Alton train station, back when the trains still ran. I was on my way to Philadelphia to catch the train that would return me to Boston and college. I was eager to go, for already my home and my parents had become somewhat unreal to me, and college, with its courses and the hopes for my future they inspired and the girlfriend I had acquired in my sophomore year, had become more real every semester; it shocked me—threw me off track, as it were—to see that my father’s eyes, as he shook my hand goodbye, glittered with tears.
I blamed it on our shaking hands: for eighteen years, we had never had occasion for this ritual, this manly contact, and we had groped our way into it only in the past few years. He was taller than I, though I was not short, and I realized, his hand warm in mine while he tried to smile, that he had a different perspective than I. I was going somewhere, and he was seeing me go. I was growing in my own sense of myself, and to him I was getting smaller. He had loved me, it came to me as never before. It was something that had not needed to be said before, and now his tears were saying it.