Father’s Day: I see you differently now

Suzette Standring
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I needed a poke in the back. 

I always thought my father’s lack of attention was benign. However, my dad never said, “I love you,” and rarely interacted with us. After work he’d head to his bedroom to eat and watch the Mike Douglas Show alone.

But really, compared to addiction, womanizing or cruelty, my father’s inattention was no big deal. As kids, we had lives. Friends, school, places to go! Later, as adults, we had families, jobs, things to do!

But right around my second divorce, I began to wonder if his distance did affect me. I couldn’t keep blaming men as if I had nothing to do with it. Did my father play a part?

Romantic love? Not my parents. Once I asked my mother, “What do you love most about dad?” She had to stop and think. “He works like a horse.”

Eventually, therapy revealed how I chose emotionally distant men, drawn to the familiar, working on them to change as a way to gain my own validation. 

But it doesn’t work that way. Lesson learned:  Marriage is an “as-is” sale. 

My realizations caused me to talk about his emotional constipation all the time, as in he couldn’t change, but I did. At the time of my epiphany in 1992, my dad had been dead for ten years.

Then one day a friend shared that personal change does not end with death. When people die, they still learn and grow in spirit, especially when aided by good thoughts and prayers. It shook me to think the spirit of my poor father could overhear my endless stories about his failings. If that were true, then how painful for him never to receive positive recognition.

I looked over my shoulder, embarrassed, much like getting caught insulting someone who just walked in and heard.

Now as a grandmother, I realize parenting is no easy gig. Maybe somewhere in the ether, my dad should know I appreciate how he powered through hardship.  

Why not talk out loud to him, as if he were still here? That very night I said,  I’m sorry, you really were a good father.” 

I recalled how he got up at 4 a.m. to work as a cook, lifting heavy pots, wheezing through his asthma. “Yes, you did work like a horse.” 

He was resourceful, steadfast, and rarely afraid. He stayed loyal to us. Every day I offered up good memories, ending with, “Dad, I hope you can hear me.”

Then one night alone at home, I stood in the dining room, looking through the mail.  Suddenly, a finger gently poked me in the back. Startled, I quickly turned, but no one was there. But the touch was real, and felt both unnerving and yet oddly reassuring. 

I whispered, “Is that you, Dad?” 

I knew it was him because suddenly I felt profound peace as if our burdens of regret had dropped away with a thud. That poke in the back felt like a thank you, as if to say, “At last, you understand.”

Happy Father’s Day to all dads and to the fatherly among us.