Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Happy Father’s Day

June 15, 1980

This day never really meant much to me since I had no father growing up, just a pack of uncles that somehow when added up together filled in for the position, each bearing one aspect of the perfect being my father never was.
I didn’t even think about the day much early on when I became a father myself – perhaps because fatherhood ceased so soon after I became it, I didn’t have time to quite comfortable with the role.
But I kept thinking how I had somehow repeated my father’s mistake, and wondered if he felt the absence the way I did, me empty as a son without a father, me empty as a father without my daughter.
I started to feel the impact of the day gradually after the possibility of fatherhood was gone, and most of all when my ex-wife moved to Portland too far out of reach for me to see my daughter.
Three thousand miles is far too far for a weekend visit, and so I am left not just with this vacant space inside of me, but with the nagging feeling that I won’t ever know my daughter and she might never get to know me.
I try to imagine what she might be doing, and if she thinks the day is as important as I do today.
And then, I’m shaken out of this fog by another figure from the past, someone who showed up in the sports department out of the blue.
“Do you remember me?” he asked, his gaunt face made even gaunter by the pointy beard.
It is the eyes I remembered, the intensity of evil I had faced off against time and time again in high school, he acting out the role of the school villain and I, the role of anti-hero.
I laughed on the outside, and trembled inside, recalling how big a bully he had been in school, and how he had stomped around the campus with his group of thugs, attracting all those shallow girls us less popular boys always wanted, but never managed to attract, a mean kid with a superior attitude that said he was going places while the rest of us were not.
He was always ready to use his fists at the least provocation. And at that moment, I remembered the fire drill where he tried to impose his will on me, coming up from behind only to have me elbow him in the stomach.
I did worse later, but at that moment, his eyes glowed with fury while he laughed in front of his friends to show them how tough he was.
That was when I started to mock his last name by singing a silly pop song from the radio that sounded like it.
Nothing infuriated him more.
I couldn’t beat him and his thugs, but I wasn’t going to let them beat me – and so I sang it at him every chance I got, right up until I quit school.
He asked what I was doing, clearly there with his two kids and a wife somewhere else in the store. His eyes mocked me again, laughing at the fact that I seemed to have ended up with a future in a two bit department store, while he had become someone important in some up and coming construction company. He had come to get some supplies for a hunting trip he was going to take with his kids.
“They gave me a gift card for Father’s Day,” he said. “I figured I could buy some fishing gear for them and we could all do something on the trip together.”
It was as if he had elbowed me in the stomach this time, I had no proper response. Even when he asked what I was up to and told him I had gone back to college in order to pursue a career in writing, the hurt lingered. He seemed impressed none the less and then called to his kids as they went off to find his wife.
The best I could do was hum the old pop song in my head, but it was clearly not enough.

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