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06/28/2010

Love you like your daddy

My grandfather had died a few days before, and my mother and I were getting ready for his funeral.  We were standing in front of the bathroom mirror putting on our makeup.  In the same black dress I'd worn to my father's funeral four short months ago, I was putting on mascara when she sighed and said, "No one will ever love you like your daddy."

It's summer so my father's on my mind.  (If he hadn't been already, the hundreds of motorcyclists out on the road would surely have brought him there, all engines rumbling.)  Father's Day is hard, not for the fact of the holiday but because the year he died, it was the last time I saw him.

I paused after typing that, because it's not exactly true.  I saw him, of course, in the hospital, unconscious on his back, his nose packed with gauze and his closed eyes leaking pinkish tears.  I spoke to him, though I knew he couldn't hear me.  More accurate to say that it was the last time, then, that we had a conversation.

I remember it well, but the details aren't important.  What stands out most in my memory is that it demonstrated his love for me and for my brothers, not just in his words — he frequently told us he loved us — but in what they revealed.  He spoke of the guidance he'd tried to give us and how differently we'd each received it.  He told me about his hopes for us from the time we were babies and continuing now that we were all adults.  He said how much he liked Charlie. Every compliment and every complaint told the same story that day.

My father and I had our differences, and some of them were profound.  Contrary to what I might have thought, his death has made me less inclined to minimize them.  Instead I want to celebrate them because unlike many parents of less fortunate children, he didn't let them matter.  He didn't hide his disapproval, but it didn't change his love.

And I always knew I was loved, but for most of my life with him I only knew how it felt to receive that love.  It wasn't until I had a child that I knew what it meant to offer it.  I didn't understand, then, until I was a parent the nature of the gift I'd been given.  It was like solving a complicated equation: both sides finally balanced.  When my dad said he loved me that last time I saw him, I understood what he was saying.  No one will ever love you like your daddy.

Similarly, there are times when I suspect I understand infertility better now that it has passed.  When I was enduring the worst of it, all I knew was that it was bad.  I could imagine the shape the future might take, but what I saw were really just shadows, vague outlines filled in with only a smudgy concept of loss.  With flesh and blood to teach me, now I know in a visceral, experiential way what I might easily have missed.  In a way, this is useless knowledge, since I'm finally moving past the need to marvel at how bad it almost was.  But in another way, it's vital.  I know I'd be poorer without it, a worse mother, a crappy friend, a human less in tune.

Which brings me back to my father.  I'm thankful to have had the chance while he was alive to see him not only as my parent but as a fellow parent.  It's not just love I understand.  I feel the same frustrations with my kids that I know he felt with us, and while I don't raise my voice as often as he did or end conversations with an exasperated "goddammit," I get it.  Oh, I get it.  He loved and tried, succeeded and failed, over and over, every single day.  Having some idea of what that's like myself — well, it didn't help me forgive him, exactly, for wrongs I'd perceived when younger.  Rather, it helped me see how little truly called for forgiveness.

I can't say I'd have mourned my father differently if I hadn't become a parent before he died.  I can't put myself there any more than I was able, without children, to put myself here.  But it makes me cry — sad, happy — to think of the love I feel for Charlie and Ben, and to know I once received it.  I'm so grateful to have had it, but three years later I still have days when I feel sort of lost without it.

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