“Conscience is a man’s compass.”
- Vincent Van Gogh
My relationship with my mother is complicated. She’s blissfully unaware of this fact since she can take anything complicated and reduce it to its simplest form, even if she’s wrong. Buying her a Mother’s Day card always makes me fraught with melancholy. These cards stroll down memory lane to express sentiments about our past and present relationship that don’t exist.
Last year, my father had his own BIG BIRTHDAY. It was decided that I’d host a surprise party. Even though my parents divorced twenty-years ago, he had a girlfriend and he’d retired to Maine, my New York family on my mother’s side still considered him family. So quite a few people made the trek to my house to celebrate.
One of things I hate about attending funerals is that none of the relatives who have died on either side of my family were particularly religious. This leaves priests to talk about a stranger. On top of the fact that I don’t agree with the Catholic view of death, the priest’s words always leaves me feeling hollow. But there’s always a relative who steps up and speaks, a person who knows the deceased family member. In those words, we come together and celebrate the life of the person we miss. I remember this happening several years ago when my aunt died, her only son got up to speak and his words made me laugh and cry because he summed who she was in such a moving way.
In the weeks leading up to my father’s party, I thought about how we often don’t tell people how we really feel while they’re here. What they really mean to us. How we wouldn’t be who we are without them. We’d be some other person, not nearly as good. Who they are is stamped on us, making us who we are.
And so I thought about making a speech. The speech I’d make if I were to speak at his funeral only he’d be alive so he’d know how much I appreciated him. I mentioned this to my husband, who scoffs at public declarations of affection. So, I became unsure and didn’t write down the words that played in my head. This was bad. If I don’t write words, I can’t remember them properly.
The day came, and I had waffled about whether or not I’d speak. It was time for cake, so if I planned to do it, this was the moment. I looked out at the twenty faces, most of them traveling at least five hours to be here. I tried to convey who my father was and what he’d been through and how much he’d sacrificed for my sister and me, but the words stumbled out of my mouth. I got choked up, which is not something I’m used to doing in front of other people.
This is what I wanted to say:
My father waited many years to retire and start his life over. He toiled in a job that he didn’t like, and with the stress he was under, I often worried he wouldn’t make it. When my parents divorced, the agreement was that my mother got the house and he got the kids. He sacrificed everything he wanted for my sister and me.
We didn’t always get along. But I got my moral compass from my father. He always did the “right thing” even if it was at the expense of his own happiness.
My father finally retired and got to live in a quiet place, surrounded by nature like he’d always wanted. He gets to hike and kayak. Then he met his girlfriend and got to share all that he loves with someone else. I’m so happy that he’s finally happy. He waited too long.
Dad, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me.
But I only got part of it out, twisted so it wasn’t in the right order and I didn’t say all I wanted in the right way. It wasn’t so much the words but the private meaning behind the words that made me emotional. I’d blown the moment and I was embarrassed. My father knew what I was trying to say, and so with teary eyes he hugged me.
Later, one of my cousins came over and said, “Your father didn’t sacrifice everything he wanted. He had you and your sister.” That meant a lot.
For years, my father did most of the things a mother and father are expected to do. And he did them without a big trail of men who’d done the same before him. When he fought for custody of my sister and me, few had done it and succeeded. The legal system was against him and the battle dragged on for years. His lawyers told him if he left the house, he’d never gain custody, so my family lived together in the midst of a divorce for four years. Only when my mother finally “compromised” did it end.
And when we moved and got a new start, I got to know him for the first time. And even after all he’d been through he never spoke badly about my mother. He always supported her. How many people would be able to do that? My father has always been and continues to be my moral compass.
I’m proud of him. I’m proud to be his daughter.
My father doesn’t normally read my blog. But I’m inviting him to read this one.
Father’s Day doesn’t feel as important somehow, so I choose to honor my father on this day.