Remembering dad on Father’s Day

My father’s heart gave out in September of 1988. He was 74, and it was his second major heart attack. I made a scrapbook to remember him after he died and usually take it out about this time of year. Father’s Day and his birthday were pretty close together, so this is when I remember him.

The scrapbook, I must admit, is a tribute of love to a man I used to despise. It wasn’t until much later in life that my mind was able to understand him, and I was able to let go of all that anger. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say he didn’t believe in “sparing the rod.” When we finally made amends, he told me that growing up on a farm in rural Western Michigan, he had worked a full time job since the age of seven. Imagine the toll that could take on a boy. He had no advanced education but a strong, Calvinist faith that required much of him. He served in World War II, and moved my mother around the country much as I did as a news director a generation later. He was doing the best he knew how to do, and I could no longer hold it against him. I remember that day well. We were together alone overlooking the channel at Holland Harbor on Lake Michigan. It was June of 1981.

It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve come to a place where I believe that we’re all — every one of us — just trying to do the best we can with what we know and have. Yeah, we all tend towards self-centeredness, but that’s because we’re human. The more human we become, however, the better we see the faults of ourselves more than the faults of others, and that becomes its own great freedom. We have a saying in AA: “If you spot it, you got it,” which means that the defects we see in others are really our own, for how else would we recognize them as defects?

My scrapbook walks me through my life up until his death, but it’s all smiles and happy memories. Playing on the beach. Holidays. Trips. Sports. Friends. Music. Vietnam. Brothers. Weddings. And other times, too. In truth, though, I was a lonely, lonely boy. I felt unwanted and unloved — even unlovable — although I know in my head that wasn’t true.

My best friend and my greatest enemy as a child was my imagination. “Stop being so sensitive” would’ve made me rich, if I had a nickel for every time I heard it growing up. The problem was I was also very intelligent. School was easy, but my creative mind took me into illusionary worlds when things around me didn’t make sense. Some of the worst things in my life, the old saying goes, never happened, because they were all in my imagination. Father beats a 10-year old boy’s backside with a thick stick? He must hate the kid. And so it goes…

Freedom from that misery, however, begins with letting it go, and as I learned with my dad that day at Holland Harbor, that’s because only we have the ability to change our past. Actually, it’s not the events that matter; those can’t be changed. It’s our reaction to those events that we control, and that’s something we can change. After all, I’d still been living with the negativity of those wounds all those many years later. Whose fault was that?

So I can say with confidence this Father’s Day that I remember the many sides of my dad. He told me that day at the beach that the most exciting thing that ever happened to him as a youngster was when they built the new gymnasium at his little country High School in Ravenna, Michigan. That puts much in perspective for me, and I celebrate his life by carrying his blood and saying a small inner cheer every time a new gym is built anywhere.

And let me join my voice to others this day who send out a simple note to those with fathers still living: it’s only too late to tell him you love him after he’s gone. I’d give anything to be in your shoes for just a few minutes, to tell my dad what I’ve been up to, show him a little of my work and share my family with him. You still have that opportunity. Please take the time to do it.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads everywhere.

Comments

  1. Kathy Benson says

    are the pages of the scrapbook you made of your dad available for view online? I am wanting to make a scrapbook of their father…for my children. I am trying to let go. I have many emotions about my married life, raising of the children, but my husband’s life ended with suicide. I’m searching for ideas how to go about this book.

    Thanks,
    Kathy

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