Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Father's Day

Today is Father's Day in the U.S. It is the ninth one I have celebrated since the death of my own father.

I've written about Daddy on this blog before. There are lots of labels I could append to him. None give a full sense of the man he was.

He was a first-generation American whose older siblings were born in Italy. He retained the Old World values and conservatism of his parents, but he was ever curious and forward-looking. He moved easily into the electronic and computer age. There was always some piece of equipment--be it a computer or a television
--sitting on his desk in pieces so he could examine how it worked.

He graduated from high school, but only attended a few months of college. He was married by then and needed to work two jobs to support his expanding family. However, Daddy insisted all four of his children get their college degrees--even though my paternal grandfather declared educating a girl (me) was a waste of money. Daddy was very proud when I completed my Master's degree.

He was a raging alcoholic for more than half of his adult life, but he never missed a day of work. When my mother had to tell his employers he was in the hospital because he'd collapsed while drunk, they were shocked. Daddy compartmentalized his drinking, sipping from a thermos of coffee and whiskey during the day to keep the edge off. It was only after work that he would drink himself into a stupor. His employers supported his going into rehab and held his job for him afterward--an enlightened stance long before the days of FMLA. Daddy remained sober for the last twenty years of his life.

I dated a military guy once who told me his priorities were his unit, the Air Force, his country and God--in that order. If Daddy had been asked, he would have said his priorities were his family, his job, God and then the U.S. He never registered to vote, but almost had a heart attack when I registered as a Republican. Whenever I saw him, I could count on his making some kind of sneering reference to "the family Republican" in the same tone he would have referred to a hooker or ex con.

We did not have an easy relationship. Although I never doubted he loved me, my father was an abusive drunk and that had a huge impact on our relationship. I held him at arms' length for most of my life, because it wasn't safe to trust him. When I would call home, he would simply hand the phone to my mother. We rarely spoke and, when we did, it was usually an antagonistic conversation.

When he first got sober, I didn't believe in him or in his sobriety. It was only when one of my brothers pointed out a couple of years later that our relationship was more about ME than it was about Daddy that I began to take a second look.

Daddy was thrilled when I started letting him into my life. One day when I called, he said, "Let me get your mother for you." I responded, "No, wait. How are you doing?" His pleasure was obvious, and our conversations gradually grew longer and longer in length. He never pushed for more than I was willing to give, but
--long before his death--we had achieved a full reconciliation. I'd always known he loved me fiercely; I was just afraid to let myself love him back.

I take pleasure today in saying, "Happy Father's Day, Daddy. I love you, and I miss you."

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