Dad's Day

Absolute-Dad-Shirt-TieThere’s something about being a writer that leads people to confide in me. Think about that. Why tell a writer, a person who uses life itself as raw material, your deepest secrets. But tell me they do, and sometimes their secrets break my heart.

Through my writing and books, I meet a lot of people. Some become friends. I’ve come to know women who confided in me just how much they hated their father. They had reason. So they say. Several told me how hard life was with an alcoholic father. Others talked about how abusive their dads were, and some felt their father never gave them all they expected, but maybe they expected too much.

The extent to which these women vilified their dad shocked me. One woman legally changed her name so fervent was her hatred toward her dad. She told me she made up her mind to never speak to him again and she never did. She didn’t even attend his funeral.

Another woman never missed a chance to insult her dad. No matter what you discussed, she would work the conversation to a place where she could insult her dad. That stopped when he died. Only then did she begin to reflect on his life and consider that life had been pretty tough on him. After all life shapes us as surely as winds shape dunes. Only after he died did she begin to realize that he’d had a hard life. And then one evening—for the first time—I saw tears in her eyes when she brought her dad up. It was too late to say, “I’m sorry” or “I love you.” That midnight train we all must board had run.

Another woman, a brunette with brilliant blue eyes, told me she had faked love for her dad all her life. This admission shocked me, too, and I wasted no time contacting my daughters to see how they felt about me. Were they faking it?

“No,” they said, “We love you, Dad.”

Today, none of the sad women who confided in me have fathers. They’ve all passed on, leaving damaged goods behind, and who knows who’s to blame for that. I write about these unfortunate women and their fathers because I think about Dad all the time, even more so come Father’s Day. He’s been gone nigh ten years now.

Unlike the women who felt compelled to heap scorn on their dads, I feel just the opposite. My father, I realize more than ever, gave me a wonderful life. He and Mom sacrificed so that I could get an education and I was able to achieve my goal of making a living as a writer. I don’t live in Biltmore House but I’m not in the poor house either. Compared to many, my life is easy and most of the time quite interesting. I look back across the years with the knowledge that I was raised right and that I loved and respected my father. And I still do.

But some people hate their fathers. Hard to believe isn’t it. No one ever said life is supposed to be easy, and one way or another, life dishes out a lot of pain. There’s the pain of living with a dad you don’t care for I suppose and there’s the pain of watching a dad you love die.

When the Earth’s travels around the sun bring me to certain days, I can’t help but recall Dad’s final days fighting cancer. As Charles Dickens wrote, “it was the worst of times.” As Harry Crews wrote about his childhood, it was “like living in a nightmare, just like a nightmare.” Dad’s death was a thing we could do little about. We tried mightily but all the love in the world could not stem the awful tide that drowned the life out of my father inch by inch, day by day, and the long nights past midnight were the worst.

The horrors of cancer make you long for a case of selective amnesia. There’s only one thing you can do. Remember the good times. Not a day passes that I don’t see Dad working in the yard, in the kitchen with Mom, sitting at the table, or driving my family through the mountains.

We take comfort in the good things life gives us and among those blessings are the memories our parents leave us. And so I wonder how these women deal with their father’s death when Father’s Day rolls around. What do they remember? Don’t they wish they could see their father one more time? I wonder about them. And I feel for them. Their life is immeasurably poorer than mine.

There’s not a day goes by that I don’t remember Dad and the things he did for me and I would give anything to see him one more time. In the great heap of days that make up a year, four days jump off my calendar: Dad’s birthday, Father’s Day, and November 15 and November 18, the day he died and the day we laid him to rest. These days poke holes in my calendar. These days will never again be the same.

I suggest these sad women who hate their fathers listen to Gregg Allman’s “These Days.” Jackson Browne wrote the song. It’s about a man who’s resigned to knowing a special relationship has died and he realizes too late he could have done more for it. “These days I seem to think a lot /About the things that I forgot to do / For you /And all the times I had the chance to.”

I would love for the women who hated their dads to hear this song, realizing it was written for them. I’d like them to let the lyrics soak in and think once more about the man who brought them into this world.

“Please don’t confront me with my failures/I’m aware of them.”

Perhaps their dads would have discussed their failures if they’d just had a chance to talk … without confrontation. Perhaps they could have settled things. Why not. Life’s too short.

Life without fathers is hard enough, but so is a life rife with guilt and things left unsaid. If you’re reading this and you still have your dad but things aren’t right, do something about it. And do it now. And if you’re a dad with a child who’s turned away, you need to act too. Don’t put it off. When the midnight train sounds its mournful whistle it’s too late to forgive. As we say down South, “The train’s done run.”

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Image: created for LikeTheDew.com from public domain images - acknowledgement to Absolut Vodka for creating their kitschy "You are one in a million" ad, which inserted this tie in the New Yorker, Fathers Day 1997 (editor's note: I was coerced into going to church that day and I wore mine and still have it).

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]