Eleven years ago, I joined the ranks of honorees for Father’s Day. The previous July, my son Jason was born and put into my arms. The first Father’s Day for me was quiet with plenty of attention from friends and family, and it affirmed wonderful celebrations in the years to come.
Previously, Father’s Day has been about my dad. Even after I joined “the club”, I have been happy to still make it about him. We go to brunch, we tell stories and I will give him some gift that he loves and effervesce over, but will never use. Ever.
This year is likely to be our last Father’s Day.
My dad is 89 years old. His health is fair. Any late hour calls from their home fill me with anxiety and fearful anticipation. He also suffers from dementia, and while he eagerly, as he puts it, “sits up and takes nourishment”, memories and information in his mind seem to be erasing themselves on a daily basis. He mentally struggles for dates, people and places of the past. He has forgotten who several close relatives are, where we’ve lived and his own wedding anniversary.
By this time next year, my dad will likely be gone either physically or mentally. If he is physically gone, I will be grieving for him. If I no longer can see myself when I look into his eyes, that I see to him I am only as some other person in the room, no longer his beloved son, I will grieve for me.
The love that I have for my dad is certainly one of the greatest of my life. The respect I have for his integrity, on matters large and small, is overwhelming.
We did not get along politically, at all. We had knock out drag out fights on almost every issue. We would fight vehemently, and then ten minutes later, all would be forgiven. We don’t fight about politics now. He no longer knows what is happening in the world anymore.
He was the person I was most afraid to come out to about my being gay. However, when I did come out, he handled it more appropriately than anyone else. He let me know that he didn’t like the idea of it, but he loved me, and that was that. We really did not speak of the subject again until years later. At that time, he let me know that he was in no way going to follow the Republican party’s lead to try to deny me marriage equality. He spoke of it again when he toasted at my Holy Union ceremony. He evolved to where he no longer had a dislike for the issue. He only saw it as an area in which I was brave.
Now we face Father’s Day. I am too aware of the pain of so many of my friends. They wish they could talk to their dads one more time. I have had the luck of longevity. Since I still can talk to my dad, albeit maybe this one last time, I will, in this, our final Father’s Day note:
Once long ago, you told me that you would be proud of me no matter who I turned out to be, or what I did. At the time, I did not believe you.
I do now. You have proved through a lifetime that you were telling me the truth.
I believe you because you, more than anyone I have ever known, have walked your talk. I only hope that my life reflects one of striving to earn your pride, even though it was a foregone conclusion.
This is not a letter to say that I love you. I do…love you, but I have told you that a thousand times, and will thousands more. This letter is to say something that seems harder to articulate, but even more important to verbalize. This letter is to say thank you. It is to say thank you for the small things, for the big things and for a full lifetime filled with everything we could think of to make happen. We did it. We made everything we hoped for real.
Thank you for lighting up when I walk into the room, thank you for the noticeable excitement in your voice when you find out that it is me on the phone, and thank you for always checking to see that I get off safely every time I have to leave.
Thank you for calling me every year on my birthday at the exact time of my birth.
Thank you for teaching me to love and care for my baby sister and letting me know that she was my responsibility, whether she wanted to be or not. Thank you for teaching me to honor Mother, and how to treat a lifemate with love and respect.
Thank you for being there to listen to each and every one of my life’s crises. You have been my safe haven, and now at this juncture in our lives, I am yours.
Thank you for honoring my family and for not only loving my sons, but for being obvious in your adoration of them.
Thank you for calling no one else in the world the nickname “pal” except me. I was three when I asked for it to be our special name, and you have honored it to this day. I have bestowed it on only one other.
One night when he was three years old, I was kissing his brother Jason and used his nickname when I said “Good night, Boo.” As I then gathered Jesse in my arms, he said, “Daddy, how come you don’t have a nickname for me?” “Because we haven’t picked one yet,” I replied.
“I want you to call me ‘pal’,” he said matter-of-factly. I was shocked for a moment. He had not heard you or I call each other that name and I have no idea how he thought of it. “Well, “ I replied. “That is a very special name. It is a name that my Daddy calls me, and no one else. If you want that name too, I will call you that. You will be my second ‘Pal’, but that just means that you will be carrying a part of Grandpa forth wherever you go. You have to promise to live up to that name, it’s a big one.”
“I TROMISE” he replied back in his usual Jesse speak. I have called Jesse “pal” ever since, not to replace you and not to give away something special between you and I. I call him that, because to me, “pal” means I am giving him the same unconditional love you gave me.
So that leads me to my biggest thank you, Dad. Thank you for my sons. Thank you for inspiring me to be a Dad, and thank you for the vision of what it takes. Thank you for inspiring me to want to be just like you. Thank you for making me want to be in someone else’s life in the way you are in mine. I now have two that I love and am proud of, no matter what.
Thank you for making me realize that time is precious, and that we don’t have it to squander. It is such an honor to have some one so courageous, kind, thoughtful, honest and strong to take pride in me as an accomplishment in his life.
I hope you look at me and see me as “a job well done”. As you assess that, there is one additional fact you need to consider.
From the bottom of my soul, I am proud to be your son.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Now, yesterday and always. I love you.