present not perfect

Dear Dad,

I couldn’t think of anything you might want or need that you can’t buy yourself, now that I am all grown up you probably don’t want a hand print, but how about a little art work? They call creative writing fine art these days. Some people say artificial intelligence may one day be able to reproduce it but I disagree, because you cannot reproduce or replace the human spirit, soul or spontaneous experience, with intelligence. Though I have been wrong before it, seems to me, writing is a desire and expression that springs from the human heart, not the mind. It has to do with emotions rather than knowledge. Here is my heart gift to you, something I know you cannot buy even if you wanted to 😉

Often times I am sad that you and mom separated, however, that fantasy is almost vanished. I can safely and honestly say that I am complete and completely made up of all the beautiful fragments I was given by those who loved me best. The soil in my life has been well fertilized. I really do see the value of shit. I won’t lie, it was difficult growing up in two homes, with two Christmases, and two sets of parents, and two bedrooms, especially for a kid who had trouble transitioning. I would typically relish exactly half a day at your house on the weekends. By the time I had settled in and adjusted it was time to go. But the crop that has arisen is thankfulness, because, at least I got to see you, I could rely on you coming for me, even if you were late. There are so many fathers who abandoned their children, and even if I didn’t always enjoy every second at your house, what I have taken with me is that you were available and present every second.

I did miss you terribly and remember longing to have a more family like atmosphere all the time. I longed for the routine and community I felt at your house, while being torn because when I was with you of course I was homesick for my things and my mother. I often didn’t want to allow myself to be too happy with you, that’s called survival guilt. The harvest is in however, because somehow by God’s grace I was able to take parts from both your home and moms, and plant it in one garden and today I call that my family.

It was difficult as a child reconciling what was ok for me to feel and think and enjoy. It took me years to realize it was ok to love you without apologies, think and speak positively of my times with you without fear, and not feel that guilt for wanting to be with you. Everything had to be divided in my secret world. My affections, my views, my thoughts and feelings and yet I didn’t know how to divide myself without feeling destroyed, and as a child I couldn’t even put words to it the way I can now. I knew what loyalty meant far too young and I was constantly feeling like I had to choose which parent to love. All normal I’m sure for kids of divorce. Much of my conflict was silent, hidden and internal. But then again, that’s pretty typical for seeds; you cannot see them.

Childhood happened at your house. It feels sort of awesome to no longer have to defend those moments or deny them in my own mind. I can just say them out loud and embrace them, because they are mine. The snow forts, the pirate ship in the neighbor’s yard, the trips to ice cream , and arcades, it was mine, ours. There was the dog bite, and that time I got gum stuck in my hair when Cheryl had to put peanut butter in to get it out. I remember all the book stores you used to drag me to, I dreaded it then but now reading is my favorite past time and my kids complain of the same thing. I remember that time I threw up in the store with you, and then the other time you farted at the cash register so loud you actually had to apologize to the store clerk- I’m almost certain that was not an isolated event for you. There was that time someone got stabbed at the end of your road and I broke the rule by going to the pond. Discipline is never pleasant in the moment. Thank you for giving me a consequence when I disobeyed. There was that time I pouted about the purple ten speed bike until you bought it for me thank you for showing me what grace is-i learned how to ride on that bike.

There were of course the regular days, the BBQ’s and the yard games, playing basketball, watching movies, playing video games and going out for pizza. There were the trips to the dump in your little pickup truck and ‘the Company’. There was sitting on the front porch in my favorite swing with just me and you. Riding back and forth on Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings. That’s when you taught me about faithfulness, and perseverance. I can’t imagine you always felt like driving two hours but you did it and I never said thank you for showing me I was worth it.

One of my favorite memories was the beach, I loved when you would give me piggy back rides under water, until I got too big. I remember that day when you told me I was too big, I was almost ruined that day. Thank you for teaching me that things change as you grow but love doesn’t. We change and it’s OK to do different things as we become different people. I remember the salami sandwiches and grapes and plums and your little cooler, and your shorty shorts. Camping and snoring and your small gray Toyota we would ride across the country in. swimming in pools with all my gear, thank you for seeing I was needy and not ignoring sensitivities.  i was thinking the other day of how you used to make me try on every weird pair of sunglasses in CVS.  I remember trying to collect rocks and shells at the beach and only being allowed to fill my own shoes, thanks for helping me learn about boundaries. That time I was Collecting dead butterflies and got so angry at you when you killed that beautiful yellow one to put in my collection, I know you were just trying to help, but it gave me a space to embrace justice and sanctity of life. Hiking the White Mountains, and instilling in me a love for the silence of the woods. I remember building a volcano together in your basement and everyone in my class was so impressed, when it erupted with a vinegar and baking soda detonation. You made me that clatter ring that I was so proud of and my stupid boyfriend lost it. I guess I learned how to survive disappointment.

My chore at your house was sweeping the kitchen floor after supper. I hated it then but oh how so many of the things in child hood which seem unpleasant at the moment really do bear an eternal weight of glory and character. I was sad that our original family didn’t work out, but the thing is, you still gave me another family, it wasn’t greater or worse, it just worked out on my behalf.

Clamming and fishing and lazy summer days, and reading on rainy afternoons. Dinner around your table, hating my milk, but you caring enough to make me drink it and caring even more to get me strawberry syrup to add. Thanks for trying (although that was probably Cheryl’s idea) you worked a lot, you worked in the basement, you worked at the office, you worked at the kitchen table. You were always working on the inside too, back then it just came out in a delayed response to my questions, “DAD” I would say, your response slow and calm, “Hmmmm”? now I realize it was the work of deep thought, and I do the same thing. Thanks for passing on your genes!

You are the father that I look back and see. I never knew the father that wasn’t good enough, I only knew the father you were to me and that was very good. The memories we made are some of the strongest memories I have. The way you held my tiny hand in your great big ones and squeezed, feeling your tough skin close around my fingers felt safe, my constant request to see your muscles, felt predictable, earning money off your graying crown, gave me a sense of work ethics. I remember little things which seem insignificant like you telling me to ‘hold your back pocket’ when we were in a store so I wouldn’t get lost. And I remember big things too like you paying for me to attend a private high school which might have saved my life.

Life is made up of countless good and bad, light and dark, right and wrong they balance each other. Would we fare better if the evening never came, if the tides never fell or if summer never faded? Would I smile more had I only known joy and never sorrow? Would my moments and life be richer if I hadn’t known the heavy rains and deep valleys? I doubt it, mountaintops are not a place to live but to visit. And I had enough to see the places I wanted to go and enough of everything else to get me there.
I know it wasn’t easy for you, but I truly appreciate that you did the best you could. Even though not every memory is a home-run, you were present, I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t without a father, and that reality is one of the most intense and gratitude producing truths I carry with me today in life, that I am not without a father – and not without a heavenly father, he is with me, he has not left me or abandoned me, he doesn’t always say yes and he doesn’t always say no, I can’t always see him, he gives me what I need, not always what I want. He disciplines and dotes, he encourages and reproofs, he permits me to experience life, to grow and change. He provides, he loves, he shelters, he builds, he works hard, he waits he watches over he carries me in deep water and always has my hand. These are things I understand better about God because I have understood them through you. Not sure if I ever told you that.

Happy Father’s Day.

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