This is my first post in a few months, and I apologize if anyone cares. Unfortunately, my father passed away recently, and I have been slightly out of sorts. He battled a very long illness, and I am happy that he is, presumably, no longer in conscious pain and discomfort. However, even with that relief, losing a parent is still a painful and disorienting experience.
I can’t say that we were extremely close, nor would I ever say we were estranged. We spoke several times a year, and usually had pleasant, drama-less conversations. But, being geographically separated by half a continent, we certainly weren’t as connected as we could have been. And unfortunately, that meant that my children were largely devoid of a grandfather, and this has caused me some degree of emotional distress, since my relationship with my own grandfather was so thoroughly treasured.
Through my various stages of life, I have admittedly complained on occasion about growing up with a detached, uninterested father. Maybe I felt that he spent too much time at work, and not enough time being Dad. Perhaps I have blamed more than one of my problems, neuroses, or peccadilloes on the lack of fatherly guidance as a child. Maybe I even felt un-loved at certain low points in my emerging adulthood. And it was always easy to passive-aggressively blame dad, and mom, and my siblings, and my ‘middle-child syndrome’ for my own insecurities and shortcomings. But looking back, I might have failed to give credit where credit is due.
No father is perfect – because fathers are humans, and subject to the same stresses, emotional flaws, and character ailments as anyone else. Because my dad was under constant pressure, partially from the memory of his own absent father and poverty-stricken childhood, to succeed, to grow his business, and to provide more for his family than he had as a child, maybe he wasn’t as involved in my life as I am with my kids. Because gender roles were changing in the 1970’s, and men born in the 1950s were not raised, trained or prepared in any way for the challenges of child care, perhaps my father was not as nurturing as I am to my children. In other words, if there were any inadequacies in my father’s parental performance, they may not have been intentional.
Looking back, I realize that my dad may have actually tried to be a nurturing and caring parent. As much as I malign my childhood experience, when I reflect, I remember very few really unpleasant fatherly interventions. Maybe a couple slightly-too-aggressive punishments, a few disappointments when he didn’t show up for some transient milestone, but nothing that left a permanent scar on my psyche. In fact, when I look back, I remember a fun and engaging conversationalist; I remember him patiently teaching me how to play the guitar; telling my brother and I jokes that were ever-so-slightly inappropriate, despite a warning glance of disapproval from my mom; hunting, fishing, camping, family vacations… And I could go on. Looking back, I actually have many more good memories of my father than bad ones.
The fact that my father was so distant from my own children is a minor tragedy. I feel they could have learned so much from his storied existence and business acumen. But mostly, I wish they had known the wry humor and intellectual curiosity that defined him. I wish they could have heard his amusing anecdotes about growing up poor in the 1960’s South. And I wish they could have appreciated the charm and wit that made him such a successful salesman for more than 40 years, even as he battled a crippling and agonizing disease.
But when I went to visit with father days before his unfortunate – yet no doubt merciful – end, I was moved to tell him that he did make a difference. And not just in me, but through me. Because as much as I resented his absence in the lives of my children, I realized that very little of what I do, say and believe are untinged by the memory and influence of my father. My children have known their grandfather by simple virtue of knowing me. I have shared – sometimes consciously, but more often unconsciously – the lessons, stories, and experiences I learned from him. And assuming that my children one day realize that their father wasn’t as bad as they remember, they may imbue their children with that same essence, extending the memory of me, and my father, into the future.
Whether you believe in heaven, or hell, or reincarnation, or the endless sleep of nothingness, we can all agree that a person’s memory keeps them alive and present in this world for as long as that memory remains alive and present. And when we lose someone – particularly someone as close to us as a parent – we realize how close we are to becoming a memory ourselves. And we are forced to reflect on how fleeting our brief existence in this physical realm is. What we can hope for is to make a difference in the lives of others that will extend our memories well beyond our own lifespans, and we can endeavor to do the same for those we’ve lost. As long as we remember, we carry the essence of our past into the future. I’m going to miss my dad, but in so doing I am keeping him alive, and hopefully passing on his unique vision to future generations.
Albeit a bit more somber than usual, I remain Your LawScholar.