When Shane was 16 years old, I got a phone call from a paramedic as I was pulling into my driveway. He said, “Do you have a son named Shane?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He told me that Shane had fallen off his skateboard and hit his head. They were loading him into an ambulance to take him to the ER. What followed was a few days in the hospital, followed by three weeks at home. I learned that my lanky kid had been standing on his longboard, lost his balance and fell backwards, resulting in a head injury. Honestly, it was one of the worst times of my mom-life. No one wants to see their kid in a hospital bed, IVs, pale, weak.
And by the way, wear a helmet when you skateboard, kids.
My Shane recovered from his concussion. We joke that when Shane hit his head, it changed him from a football playing, military-bound, alpha male to the laid-back poet, screenwriter, and quietly assertive young man he is today. I think that is who he was all along. Sometimes we need a smack upside the head to realize this. I don’t recommend falling off your skateboard onto your skull to achieve this.
Most of the time, life, the Universe, supplies this smack. In reality or metaphorically. It may be a few times before you pay attention.
Today is Father’s Day. For years, when I was married, my focus on Father’s Day was on my Wasband and on his father. So – I got a 20-year reprieve from dealing with my emotions about my own father on Father’s Day. But like most things that we take a sabbatical from without resolution, they don’t actually go away.
My parents divorced when I was six years old. I did not see my father again. However, he did reach out to me when I was in my mid-twenties, before I started law school. We started writing letters to each other. He was a college professor, smart. I used to proofread my letters multiple times before sending them to him. No matter, he still corrected them. I still disagree with him about the judicious use of a comma, particularly an Oxford comma. But – that’s not the point here.
My mother, bless her heart, put together a package for him and we mailed it to him. Photos of my brother and me. Newspaper articles about my brother’s athletic achievements. My writing. Our college careers. Both of us being accepted to law school. His grandchildren. She provided him with twenty years of time lost, without ever blaming or asking where he went. No communication for twenty years and she just sent out a catch-up package. Damn. That’s some amazing karma.
But I asked. I asked where he went and why. I was angry. I couldn’t understand why a father who said he loved me would leave. He gave me reasons. To him, they were valid. To me, as a law student with an attitude, they were not enough. At that time, I had not learned the most important lesson of being a good advocate – to listen without judgement. Shit, that’s one of the most important and difficult lessons of being a good human being. Listen without judgement.
I wish I had been kinder to him. I wish I would have said, I forgive you, Daddy. I hope I said, “I love you.” I hope he knew that I did.
The letters from my dad stopped in the early 1990’s. My brother and I did a search in the mid-1990s and we learned that my father committed suicide. And just like that, my dad was gone. For good this time.
For a lot of years, I was really, really mad at him. Not fair! Why would you just leave and not say anything to me? And then, I don’t know. I stopped thinking about it. It hurt too much. It became part of my rushed narrative.
So – Shane was here visiting last week. He was in the backyard talking to a friend on the phone and I heard him describing the time when he fell off his skateboard and fractured his skull. I said, “Oh, Shane, that still hurts my heart.” He said to his friend, “My mom still has a hard time with that one.” Yes, I do. It’s one of the worst and best things about being a mom. That your heart and soul are out there in the world walking around, riding skateboards, driving cars, falling in love, and you cannot change that, you cannot protect them from life. You just have to let them go. You have to trust you did a good job parenting them. It sucks in the best possible way.
For some reason, today, on Father’s Day, the Universe smacked me upside the head. Maybe it happened before. Today, I finally paid attention.
It wasn’t like anything sexy or spectacular happened. I re-organized my garden shed. I weed-whacked the front yard. I cleaned off tools and organized the tool bench. I planted sunflowers and rosemary. I reorganized the garage. I packed a box of items for fire season – and discussed fire evacuation plans with my best friend. I was dirty and sweating. I joked with a friend – “I’m the Dad today.” And it just hit me. Fucking left hook to my brain.
My dad never got to see me grow up. He never saw me get ready for Homecoming and Prom. He never saw any of my graduations. He never got to tell me my dress was too short and my attitude was too big.
He was not perfect, for sure. I challenged the way he handled his divorce from my mom. I was not okay with his parenting of me and my brother. But in the end, holding onto blame and shame and hate never brings us to a better place. It just propagates more blame and shame and hate. I don’t know about you, but I’m done with that kind of redundancy. I’d like to step off that hamster wheel.
I don’t know why my father believed his life wasn’t worth continuing. What I do know is that I’ve stopped asking if it was my fault. Or if I could have changed it. Just as I cannot fix or change my sons’ lives as they progress in their own adult lives, I did not have the ability to fix or change my father’s life. There’s a lot of power in compassion and forgiveness. Especially when you give it to yourself.
I hope you had a beautiful Father’s Day, however you spent it, and whomever you spent it with.
“Dear Daddy, I hope you get this message. I just want to say, Happy Father’s Day. I love you and I wish we could have spent more time together. I hope that wherever you are, you are happy. Love, Pixie.“