Last Sunday would have been my father's 82nd birthday. In the past year, I've watched a few friends scramble to process the deaths of their fathers, each of them going through a similarly jerky dance of grief and guilt and fragile new confidence. If Hallmark commercials are to be believed, we should all feel protected, connected, close, and secure whenever we think of our fathers. If that's not how it is, then, if John Mayer is to be believed, we must be irrevocably broken by the lack of proper fathering. I don't understand why we, as a society, always want to put intensely complex arrays of emotionally significant things into tight boxes. The world does not work that way.
My father died in the year 2000, when he was 71 and I was 21. In the intervening years, I have come to appreciate some of the wonderful things about him, and to think somewhat fondly about the maddening ones. I don't think this would be possible were he still alive. One of my close friends has just lost her father, and is trying to navigate this same rocky terrain. I tell her, "It's okay not to be as sad as people think you should be. And it's okay, too, to be sad even in the midst of being angry and confused. And it's okay to be relieved." Because sometimes family is a burden, and often love is complex.
All of you with really happy and close father-daughter relationships: I think you're cool, too. This isn't about you.
I am writing this from Disney World, which is a strange and surreal place. It tells us that everyone should be happy, that family togetherness is the utmost of awesome, that conspicuous consumption, conformity, and falsely clean and shiny things are desirable. It asks us, sometimes overtly, to waste, please.
And yet... it is Fascinating. It is grand. It makes me, at times, grin uncontrollably. It is full of wonders, even though they are illusory, sometimes because of that. And I have seen families, all kinds of families, entranced by the wonder and the joy of it, and also falling prey to crankiness brought on by heat and the pressure of enforced cheeriness. And all of this makes me think: I am glad I am here. I am glad my father is not here.* I am glad that when I do and see things I know he would also find fascinating, that I can think of him fondly. And I am also glad that I can be myself, secure in the knowledge that I will not have to have the battles I used to have, or that I see my friends with living fathers having. Is this callous of me? I don't know. But I know that I appreciate my father now in ways that I haven't always been able to. And there is a measure of peace in that.
*I am glad my father is not here at Disney World with me right now. I think some of my anxiety in crowds comes from him, actually. He was always impatient and impossible at places like this, even if he also enjoyed the strangeness. It's nice not to have to deal with that. I seem to have implied that I am super glad he's dead. I'm not sure that's true. I think his being dead makes my life easier in a lot of ways, but difficult things can still be worthwhile. Were my father alive, I'd try to make sure our relationship was as good as it could be.