Out of suffering has emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.Khalil Gibran
This Sunday is Father’s Day. Many make it a weekend celebration of the man who has enormous influence and love in a child’s life, starting with its creation. Everywhere one sees images paying tribute to the sacred role of the father: a father holding his child at birth, perhaps with a somewhat overwhelmed look on his face, the father teaching his children to ride a bike, the proud father standing next to a child graduating high school or college, to the tearful father walking a daughter down the aisle to her future spouse. I see many of my friends posting tributes to the men who have helped nurture and love their children, and I am happy. I also see and listen to tearful memories of a father lost, either too early in their life, or recently. They express the hole that the loss has created in their lives, the grief, and the love they still carry for a man who was an irreplaceable giant in making them the person they are today, and I grieve with them. Then, there are the ones like me, who may have never known their biological father, or lost contact after an event, like divorce, with their father. For me, this makes Father’s Day a somewhat bittersweet day every year.
Grief and loss are powerful forces that shape our lives. Today, a meme came up in my Facebook memories that I posted last year (it’s at the end of this blog entry). It’s about grieving the loss of ones who have left our lives, but are still on this earth. One of the hardest things I have had to do in my life is come to accept the loss of my father at an early age, and know that the choice was his. He had a new woman in his life right after the divorce, and he moved on. One of my last memories of him is being in his apartment with my brothers and this woman, and him telling us that for our own good, he was not going to see us anymore. It was best for us all, he said, since the divorce had been so contentious and it was clear that we, the children, were much happier and better off with our mother. Being 12, I was at an age when I could start to process this, and truly he hadn’t been much involved in my life to date anyways, so it did seem logical, did it not? So, to this day, it has been over three decades since I have seen him.
Over the years, I have made peace with all this. We either grow or do not, let things break us or make us. Let it make us weak, or become strong. I will not lie and say it did not have a tremendous impact in my life, and that I did not grieve for years. It was a hard won peace. Occasionally, like on Father’s Day, I think of what he missed in my life. The grandchildren he will never know. But, hearing the relationships he has with my brothers (interestingly, he has never reached out to me, his daughter, all these years), I know I am better off without him in my life. I am content. It taught me many lessons that have served me well through the years: self-reliance, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, accountability, weakness, strength, compassion, and that we are all human, and can only be who we are. And, in a seedy airport bar in Reading PA, where my coworker and I bonded over Yuenglings and shared our life stories, my coworker said to me something that I never thought about, and it touched me deeply. He said “You have had so much crap things in your life, but you don’t wear them, you don’t show your scars. You seem so light, and you don’t let them get you down and drown you.” At the core of that is the most important lesson I learned when my father left. Though we have people in our lives who help us along our journey, at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own success, our own failure, our own happiness, and how we choose to live our lives. And, I am grateful.
So to my father, thank you for the lessons you taught me, even in absentia.