My father, ‘The Colonel’, as Mom called him.
I have always thought that there is some Karmic thing going on with me and fathers. Growing up, I used to wish my mom ‘Happy Father’s Day’, as she was really both parents to me. My own father left us when I was a toddler to start another family and another life, seeing me usually once a year for about ten minutes- not much time to build a relationship. Both of the men who would have been my father-in-laws passed away years before I married their sons, and I only heard stories of what fun and loving men they were. I seemed to have always been on the fringe of the traditional family, looking from the outside in. And so, Father’s Day never fails to leave me feeling conflicted, as if I lost out on something very special in my life. I don’t think that is the case anymore, though; instead, I had a different family life, just as many, many people have. I didn’t miss out on love, and that is by far the most important component of any family.
I am in no way complaining- I had a loving and wonderful childhood thanks to my mother, and excellent examples of good and loving men in my uncles and high school band director. As life progressed, I had other male figures who proved by example that men could be decent and kind. Their impact was no less important than those related to me by blood. While I very much wish things had been different with my father, my life would have born no resemblance to the life I have lead had I grown up in his household, and I seriously doubt he would have allowed me to pursue music as a career. My mother encouraged me to follow my dreams, telling me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Even she blossomed without the often dark and oppressive shadow of my father.
I wish I had a photo of Dad and I to share, but there isn’t even one picture of us together. When I realized that a while back, I was stunned. I have so many photos of my life, photos of many family members, but not a single one of my dad and me. I find myself hungry for knowledge about him, sometimes asking my siblings. I was the one in ‘the crack’, the baby of the first family born when things in our family blew up, the only of my father’s children never to live with him. I wonder if I am like him in ways other than the high forehead and strong jaw. I wonder what was important to him, what he believed, what he liked to eat, what were his dreams? So many things that I wish I could ask him, but that will remain a mystery.
While it can make me sad at times, I have so much gratitude for other aspects of my life that overshadows that occasional melancholy. If Dad hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have had my younger brother and sister, two wonderful people who are dear to me. I most likely wouldn’t have had the gift of music that has given me purpose, passion, and so much joy. Maybe I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue many of the dreams I have followed if I hadn’t lived in the cocoon of my mother’s unwavering encouragement.
It was so easy when I was young to be angry with my dad, to see him as this bad person who hurt my mother and abandoned us to selfishly follow his own wants and needs. I don’t see it that way anymore, however. I don’t know if I had any big epiphany- only that I have lived life and made my own mistakes. It is easier now for me to see him as a man, a very human man, one who served his country in the Army for thirty-three years and travelled across the world to fight in three wars. I can’t imagine what he saw and experienced, and how it must have changed the young boy from Hixson, Tennessee.
I don’t need to judge him anymore. I am grateful he gave me life and that he made me strong and determined to prove to him that I could succeed in following my dreams. I am grateful for a childhood filled with love and laughter- no matter how little money there was. And I am grateful for the father figures who have been there when I needed them most, their gentle and loving presence guideposts along the way. There are so many good men in the world, and my father was one of them. He did the best he could with the tools he had…and I am grateful for him, too.