Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Father’s Day never held much meaning for me. My parents divorced when I was two years old. I have no memories of my father living in the same house with us, and few memories of weekend visits that halted abruptly when I was still very young.
I never felt as if I was missing something by not having a dad around. My mother somehow managed to play the role of both parents. At times she worked two jobs, making sure we had a roof over our heads and food on the table. She put me through college and gave me my first car. She was disciplinarian enough for both parents, but also provided double the love and comfort when I needed it.
I had a bevy of wonderful uncles – my mother’s five brothers. Uncle George was always chewing gum. I knew when I saw him, it wouldn’t be long before he would offer me a piece, which I always accepted. He would remove that slender pack of Wrigley’s from his pocket, and he had a way of presenting it with one stick slid in front of the others so it was easy to retrieve. It was like the ultimate magic trick to me. Uncle Allen worked behind the bar at my grandfather’s place. I saw him a lot when I was younger because I spent many weekends and summers with my grandmother. I would walk downstairs and stick my head into the bar. We were not allowed to walk into the bar unless we got the “ok” nod from grandpa. Uncle Allen would pop the top off a cold green-glass bottle of Coca Cola and hand it to me, along with a kiss on the top of the head. Uncle Arthur was the youngest of the brothers, staying busy with three children of his own. But he was never too busy for a hug for his sister’s children. Uncle Bob was always special to me as he was my godfather. With no children of his own, he had plenty of love to share and often spared no expense for holiday gifts. I will never forget the tape recorder he bought me for my birthday. It was the best, and probably most expensive, gift I ever received as a youngster. Uncle Eddy will always be remembered for his dry sense of humor and wit. He assumed a patriarchal role in the family early on.  He was quiet and unassuming, but a tower of strength and knowledge. We grew up knowing that Uncle Eddy was the one you consulted if you needed advice. I didn’t have to think twice about asking him to walk me down the aisle when I got married; he was simply the natural choice.
I also had a plethora of substitute dads on our street. Russ Goss lived next door and had five children of his own. He was the dad who would play catch for hours with us, tossing it gently to me in between firing shots to his four boys. Richie Vancott was the ultimate dad who would pile all the neighborhood kids into his station wagon for a trip to the drive-in movies or the ice cream parlor.
Though my mom never remarried, she did date a few men who impacted our lives in very positive ways. Our favorite had to be Charlie, a gregarious gentlemen who had more energy that the Energizer Bunny. He would show up at our house early on Saturday mornings, ready to tackle a weekend project. This annoyed my mother to no end as she viewed Saturday mornings as a day to sleep in after working all week. But Charlie did amazing things to our modest home including a backyard patio with hand-laid bricks and the assembly of our three-foot swimming pool complete with filter and ladder. He mowed the lawn, painted the shutters, put up a fence and organized the garage. But the straw that broke the camel’s back of my mother’s patience was the day he cleaned out her junk drawer, rendering her incapable of finding anything.
I grew up without my biological father, and though I sometimes felt the flutter of the loss, I really had no particular emotions about it. I didn’t hate him, I simply didn’t know him. He passed away several years ago leaving behind six girls, three from each marriage. His death culminated in a barrage of communications among us, flooded with the few, but meaningful, memories we did hold from the early years when there was still visitation.
My half-sister, Pat, resisted the initial coming together. She and I were each the youngest of the two families, and probably felt an obligatory loyalty to our respective mothers. But apparently dad was manipulating things from above, and eventually she and I found our way to each other. I went to visit her and we instantly became the sisters we were meant to be all along. We sat at her kitchen table until the wee hours, drinking wine, looking at pictures and sharing stories of our own children. And then she shared stories of our father, including his bout with cancer and details of the day he died. She made me see him in a new light and I left there with a completely different attitude about my father. I now have feelings that have filled a previously empty space.
To all those uncles and neighbors and friends who played pieces of dad roles in my life, thank you and Happy Father’s Day. And to my dad, thank you for five sisters who each have affected my life in their own special way. I know you because of them.

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