Father’s day on Facebook is filled with sweet smiles and tributes. I am touched by my friends’ photographs and texts, but that’s not what brings tears to my eyes this morning. My father died suddenly just after my tenth birthday. “The last day of my childhood,” I always say, because he was the tenuous tie to normalcy that kept my multi-generational immigrant family tethered to ordinary reality. When the tie was cut, we slid off the edge into chaos, and I learned how to rescue myself, thank God.
When I look at the pictures of happy families on Facebook, that sore spot in my heart begins to pulse. They are grateful for their good fortune, as I am for mine. I also know by now that it is possible to have had a father and wish you hadn’t, to have had a father and nevertheless longed for a father’s love. Even though I have outlived my own father by decades, still I am susceptible to that Hallmark moment: the sweetness when the tall father squats to meet his daughter’s eyes, tenderly restraining his own strength, as if a skilled crane-operator were delicately maneuvering his dinosaur machine to pluck an apple from a tree. Nostalgia for what you never had is the most powerful kind.
My father was a hard-working man, a housepainter who smelled always of the paint thinners and handcleaners of his trade and in my memory is always somewhere else, working. I have few recollections, fewer photographs and just one or two mementos. If you want to see what Mack looked like, he appears in a photo a little more than a minute into my short digital story “Henri & Me: The Secret of Survival.” He’s the man on the right with the haunted eyes (and I’m the anxious little girl, clutching a doll and sticking out her tongue).
Whether you enjoy your father’s love still or only see him in nightmares, whether you have learned to father yourself or that lesson is still to come, I send blessings today for each of us to feel encircling arms and know we are held.
Here’s Patti Smith covering Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush” from her brand-new album, Banga. Nostalgia rushes down like a river, flowing toward the future. “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the twenty-first century.”