As mid-June approaches my thoughts inevitably waver between memories charged with happiness, mourning, and a sense of gratefulness. This is the time of year to celebrate fathers, and I had the wonderful gift of knowing my father for fourteen years. You see, I can’t help but smile at the image of him conjured up in my mind; yet, I catch a slight frown at the feeling of his absence. The loss of a parent, or someone dear, I believe is never entirely healed. I wish he had lived longer. How I would love just one more conversation! I wish he could see me now. I wish I could hug him. I wonder what he would look like today as a man in his 70s. It’s been over twenty years since he died and I still miss him terribly.
But this is not meant to be a “woe is me” sort of post. I mentioned that I experience happiness and gratefulness as well during this season of Father’s Day. His love established a strong foundation for me to journey through this crazy thing called life. A voracious reader, he impressed the habit onto me from my early years. In the evening we would sit in the living room each holding a copy of the same novel and take turns reading it out loud. Our first book together was Treasure Island. We moved on to Wuthering Heights, and War of the Worlds. Even as I type this I grin at the vivid recollection. I remember that his nightstand teetered precariously with the weight of books, and as I glance at my own nightstand cluttered with fiction and philosophy I see (with delight) that I am without question my father’s daughter.
As an adult I recognize a lot of his habits, interests, and even appearance echoed in my existence. I gravitate towards the humanities and dabble in a bit of science. He earned two undergraduate degrees: English and History with a minor in German, and then went on to graduate studies in History. My nose has a wee bit of a bend like his. Indeed, every time I catch my reflection in the mirror at my unruly eyebrows, dark hair, and Polish features, I understand that I am not at all without him.
Recognizing his influence, be it in manners or genetics, pushes me in the direction of happiness and the realization that our brief time together was an absolute treasure. This conclusion did not come easily. In a recent talk at my alma mater high school for a scholarship dinner, I told the audience that scholarship is about falling in love with the world and it is also about rebellion. For example, the thinker Mary Wollstonecraft argued for women’s education: it was evidence of a love of the world, and a rebellion against the prevailing opinion.
However, in order to fall in love with the world support is essential. When my father died I exhibited anger at the world. I retreated. I did not want to participate. What did it matter? Fortunately, my teachers pulled me out of that dark disposition, and they exercised an incredible amount of patience. My grades plummeted for a good couple of years. Eventually, with their encouragement, I found a way to fall in love with the world and embrace education. This transition required me to view the beauty of my relationship with my father instead of harboring a resentment over his unexpected passing.
Let me end with this: I think it is okay to be sad and to even be angry for a while about loss. I think it would be bizarre and unhealthy to seek out a quick solution, after all, I’m still quite attuned to the loss even though it has been over two decades. But, despite this, the sentiment comes because love is so powerful. That is, it is because of the relationship nurtured by my father, this good man, that the loss felt so cutting. I don’t know how else to describe it. I do know that I can’t be angry.
Thus, in the spirit of celebrating fathers, I do join in and cheer! He is present in my memory, in my way of doings things, and in the way I participate in the world. He was a gift. That is the joy and the reason for me to celebrate.