A HAPPY FATHER'S DAY TO -- MY EX!
In his stand-up routine Bigger and Blacker, Chris Rock does a clever riff on the shortage of attention fathers receive for their contributions to the family.
He rants that athletes wave Hi, Mom into the camera but hardly ever acknowledge their other parent. He observes that dads urge their progeny to thank your mother for dinner but fail to take credit for the food she prepares. He laments that society accords little status to those who provide the hot water in which the family bathes. And that dads never object because Real Men Dont Complain.
Much emphasis today is placed on the people who bear children, which is proper--mothers are pretty important to the smooth running of societys machinery. But fathers are not exactly chrome wheels on the options list of family life. And Fathers Day is hardly enough credit for all the silent and unremarked upon sacrifices made by the guys who provide half the genetic material in the creation of every life.
The third Sunday in June is a difficult time for many of us whose fathers are no longer living. In my case, this is compounded by the fact that my father died suddenly when I was a teenager and I never took the opportunity to thank him for working two jobs to provide those meals and baths that I enjoyed, but took for granted. So while it would make sense to write this paean to him, I will instead address it to someone who is still around to appreciate the sentiment--my ex-husband. He embodies the notion of a dedicated father and selecting him to help me bring two lives into the world ranks as one of the smartest decisions I ever made. And so on this Fathers Day, I want him to know that all that he has provided for his sons will not go unremarked upon.
When I met John in 1977, he was the father of two boys, ages 9 and 6. Every other Friday when he got off from his first job, he drove his tiny Japanese car to Nashville, where his sons lived, to exercise visitation. On the other weekends, his second job was selling books door-to-door to provide money for the child support, private schools, medical costs, Little League fees and myriad other expenses that the salary from his first job could not cover.
To this twice-monthly trek was added a less than amicable divorce which meant that it was never made easy for him to see his sons. Despite the cool reception and the effort required to make the trip, he never missed a weekend. And despite the shortage of funds, he never missed a support payment.
When I first met him I was not yet a parent, and wondered how he could continue to be devoted to two children for whom visits were like Sisyphean tasks. Later I learned that besides loving the time he spent with his two sons, his own father had abandoned the family when he was 3. Johns father exacerbated his absence by showing himself just often enough to destroy the fantasy that he was dead--a far easier explanation to have tolerated as to why he was never around. Because of the feeling of abandonment by his father, John vowed that any children of his would feel loved, whatever sacrifice had to be borne. I do not know if John has ever thought about the bitter irony of it, but from his own early loss, his four boys have gained immeasurably.
When our two sons were born in 1981 and 1984, he poured his paternal energies into them without neglecting his older two. I am still impressed when I think of the times he drove to Nashville on a Friday night to watch his sons wrestle or play football and then returned in time to coach our boys baseball or basketball teams on Saturday morning. He led their Scout troops and took our older son on a two-week hike to Philmont Scout Ranch. He helped them build their science projects, took them on canoe and ski trips, and never blanched at doing all of this in the precious few hours left after putting in a full day at the office.
Despite our split six years ago, he continues to be involved in every aspect of their lives. Recently his two older boys moved to Memphis, and so, for the first time since his initial appearance in a hospital delivery room in 1968, he can see and talk to and embrace the four most important people in his life on a daily basis. Even though he has not told me so, I can guess that he has never been happier.
I hope that when John hears Harry Chapins Cats in the Cradle on the radio or in an elevator, he is secure in the knowledge that his sons will not grow up to live out the lyrics of that song. Not if they use their own dad as an example of what it means to be a father.
From me and the kids, thanks. And Happy Fathers Day, John.