Father's Day is not a day that fills me with all sorts of Hallmark feelings. I love my dad. I am thankful for what good he did display. I respect his position as my father. All of those have been conscious acts of will. I have chosen very deliberately to cultivate those attitudes after a lot of soul searching. He is a very difficult and harsh man. I chose to forgive the ways he hurt our family even though he felt no need to apologize or seek forgiveness. I had to for my own sake more than for his. There have been times when I've had to set some very clear boundaries too and know he might choose to walk away. Fortunately, he decided to respect them. We've managed to build a decent relationship and accept each other as we are. I am glad for that.
All that said, I have to credit my mom with equipping me to be able to do a lot of that. She was very clearly wronged in a number of ways by my dad. In spite of that she refused to descend into bitterness or undermine Dad in the eyes of her children. Regardless of whatever occurred between the two of them, we kids were expected to show Dad respect simply because he was our father. I never told her the ways he'd run her down when we went for visits with him but I noticed the difference between the two of them even when I was very young. I saw her integrity very early.
I remember being in college and taking the time to go over and visit Dad for Father's Day. When I told Mom where I was going she raised her hands in victory and said, "Yes! I succeeded!" I was confounded as to what she could possibly mean so I asked what this display was all about. She explained that one of her biggest goals was to do everything she could to foster a good relationship between her kids and their father. She said she didn't want what he had done to her to poison our relationship with him. She had hoped when my brother and I grew up we'd take steps to show we still wanted to be around dad. We had all seen the way an aunt and cousins had completely cut out their dad and his side of the family when divorce tore them apart. We had all seen how many times over the devastation spread as a result. My mom didn't want to repeat that terrible magnification of sadness and pain in her own family. That I would voluntarily choose to go see my dad on Father's Day meant to Mom she had reached her goal. I gained even more respect for her that day than I already had.
Recently, another difference has become glaringly obvious.
When Dad left, Mom's only marketable skill was as a seamstress. When she couldn't generate enough income from her own dressmaking she went to work in a nearby garment factory that was close enough to walk to when the car was in the shop. She was regularly cheated out of wages. My brother and I got free lunches at school because of our economic situation. I never knew until years later that we actually qualified for food stamps but when Mom received them she couldn't bring herself to use them. She returned them saying, "Give this to someone who needs it more than I do." She kept us fed and dressed through other means. She is still the most resourceful woman I know and the most adept at managing limited amounts of money. In fact, even though we lived on the edge she somehow managed to save enough money for a family trip to Texas to visit friends of hers just 3 years after Dad left. The house she bought with her share of what was left from selling the house she and Dad owned was a disaster. The upstairs had no heat or electricity and had holes in some of the walls. She bartered her seamstress skills and willingness to babysit for the carpentry skills of a friend who was willing to teach her how to frame, insulate, run wire, and hang drywall. They worked together to improve the house and my brother and I were expected to assist the process by carrying lumber and supplies or by holding things in place. Any ability I have to stretch a dollar I credit to her. Any willingness I have to learn a new skill that will be useful or make me more self-sufficient is because I saw her successfully do the same.
At the beginning of the year my Dad's position at his company was eliminated. For all of my adult life he has made a very comfortable living at this company and complained at every turn about the incompetence of his bosses, the board, anyone over him. When his position was cut Dad was offered a year's full salary as severance. Since he is of age he is also collecting full Social Security and his pension. Unlike so many others who have recently lost jobs (my brother among them. His position as eliminated in November. He has sent out over 95 resumes and been on a number of interviews since then and still has no job.), Dad is making out better after being downsized than he ever did while employed. The day he got the news he took time to email my brother and me (He never emails us except to share his travel itinerary if the company sent him to some far flung location.) to know he had "finally beaten the company and gotten them to pay him to go away." I can be glad for him. He worked hard for the same company for 42 years and gave his best effort even when it seemed clear the company was trying to run itself into the ground. However, he also found out that in Pennsylvania it is legal for him to collect unemployment. He is doing so most gleefully. Personally, I find it rather unethical that he would even file an unemployment claim. I find it reprehensible that he would cash the unemployment check. When I called him for Father's Day this time he once again related his joy over this great windfall and shared the dollar amount they send him every week. Suffice it to say his unemployment checks alone are more than the salary is for the library job I applied for and he's getting full salary, Social Security, and pension on top of all this. It kind of boggles the mind.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. You seem to have gotten what you wanted though for all the wealth you've amassed and continue to gain you seem rather poor.
Happy Father's Day, Mom. You got what you wanted too...and what you wanted is of far greater value. Thank you for teaching me that. It makes me rich in ways not reflected on my bank statement.
Happy Father's Day to the men who are fathers in the best sense of the word, those who value, nurture, and guide the children in their sphere of influence in a wise and loving way. I include those men who have not actually fathered a child but who still take their position of influence in a child's life seriously and give of themselves for the betterment of that child.