Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Father's Love

Late spring into early summer is a difficult time of year for me. My dad’s death, his birthday, and then Father’s Day all roll around in near rapid fire succession, making it a very emotional period, and I’m not well equipped to deal with emotional periods. That’s just a statement of fact, and it is what it is. There are things I can do to be better at handling emotional periods, and these writings are part of that process, but there is also a matter of brain chemistry that isn’t going to rearrange itself just because I make an extra effort. My brain processes emotion in a way that is different from average. It isn’t necessarily better or worse, and you might notice that I used the word “average” rather than “normal,” which was, I assure you, quite intentional. My brain is not average. Sometimes that is helpful, sometimes it is not, but it’s almost always complicated.

As we approach Father’s Day, I have an almost irresistible compulsion to examine certain things that tend to raise my emotional level. It’s almost like picking at a scab. You know you shouldn’t do it, but you do it anyway, and sometimes - rarely - it actually has positive results. I do believe that the positive results are more common in this version than in that physical version, but the analogy is not far off. It’s a potentially painful experience of questionable benefit.

This is me stalling, if that wasn’t obvious. Long term readers already know that I do that when things get emotional.

My dad and I didn’t always have the best relationship. There is no blame to cast here. We both loved each other and wanted the best. We just, neither one of us, were all that good at accomplishing the best. In hindsight, I can look back and see so many things that I recognize now, but had no way of knowing, or that I lacked the maturity and experience to understand at the time. Depression, the mental illness version that is so dependant on brain chemistry, is a controversial subject, and we have still barely cracked through the surface of learning how it works, what causes it, and what remedies might address it. We know there is a genetic component, though. If a parent has it, the child is more likely to have it. By inverse logic, then, if a child has it, there is a better than average chance that a parent has it. We tend to come by such things the old fashioned way. I have depression, and I see things in the home movies of memory that are quite familiar. You do the math.

We had our problems, and sometimes those problems were loud, but there was never a time, even during our worst encounters, when I doubted his love for me. I had that going for me. I’ve known people who didn’t or don’t have that, people who not only have doubts but who have legitimate reason for doubts, and I can’t overstate the difference. A father’s love, no matter how far from perfect, is a father’s love, and there is nothing in the world that can replace that. There are times that I would not object to rewriting, if that were only possible, times that I wish one or the other or both of us had done or said something different than what really happened. I’ve played the If Only game so many times in my head, I’ve warned people against some of the more obvious mistakes when I see them, I know all about wanting to change things, but I also know how fortunate I am where it counts. My dad loved me, and I never doubted that.

Now I’m the dad, and I ask myself that question hundreds of times a day. Do they know I love them? I don’t ask what my dad would have done. He and I both knew that I wouldn’t be doing things the same way that he did, and I don’t think that’s ever been an issue. We’ve come at life from different perspectives and have different tools to bring into consideration, but we have the same outcome in mind where it counts. We want what’s best for our children, and we want to do our best to help them achieve that. That, I believe, is a father’s love. Sometimes a father’s love has to take the form of, “No, you can’t have that,” or, “No, you can’t do that.” Sometimes it has to be stern, or firm, or “tough love,” or however you choose to term that. Sometimes a father’s love has to be more difficult to see at the moment. We’re all human and limited by human perspective, so sometimes a dad doesn’t show as much or as well as he would prefer, and sometimes children don’t see what they want and so don’t see what is really there. All we can do is do our best and hope that our perspectives are not so blocked on either side that we can’t at least know the love is there.

Do they know I love them? I hope so. I am plagued by doubts sometimes, and my brain chemistry doesn’t make that any easier. It can be difficult at times to tell the difference between depression’s lies and mistakes I may have actually made. I hope so.

I have four children. That’s a pretty amazing discovery itself for a guy who looks back and spots several points in personal history where the flow of personal history almost stopped. The math is a little unusual - as so many things in my life tend to be - but believe me, it checks. There are four people who call me Dad. Only one shares my DNA, and only one (a different one than the first, even) has shared my address for most of his young life, but four share my love, and my hopes, and my dreams. At different points in their lives, they have also shared my struggles and my mistakes, but I hope the love, hopes, and dreams have been bigger. I hope they always know I love them.

If wishes were fishes, we’d never go hungry. I don’t remember where I first heard that, but I’ve always liked that way of putting it. Wishes are easy, and, in wishes, things tend to be easy. If I could do things by wish, there would be no questions and no doubts. We’d have a large piece of property where children, parents, and grandparents could all be together (probably in multiple houses - let’s not get carried away here), and we could all spend all of the time together we could ever want. There would be no want and no need, and we wouldn’t require compromises or make-do arrangements. I think I would make sure to wish in some continued trial and error, just to keep things interesting, but it would probably just be of the “keep things interesting” variety, and not the kinds of trial where error could be truly painful. I don’t know. Maybe things wouldn’t actually stay interesting without the possibility of being painful. Interesting thought experiment, there, but not much of practical value. If wishes were fishes, we’d all be together and none would ever have cause to question the love of another, but wishes are not fishes. In the real world, things just are not that easy.

I have a feeling that I understand better today some of the things my dad experienced. I think we had some of the same thoughts and saw some of the same things. When it’s 2:00 am and there effectively is no outside world to interfere with the inside reality, shadows grow long and fears weigh heavy. We never got to talk about it, but I think I saw the look more than once. We must each wage our own battles with our own demons, but my dad taught me a secret that helps with that war. I’m not sure whether or not he knew he was teaching this particular secret, but I am pretty sure he’s be okay with my passing it on. His love for his children was one of his greatest weapons. I think there were times that gave him strength when nothing else did. I could be wrong - I am operating on hindsight and after-the-fact knowledge here - but I don’t think I am. I’m in a pretty unique position to know. It’s true for me. There are times when my love for my children gives me the strength that nothing else can. I don’t think I learned that in a void.

A father’s love is like no other energy in the universe. That isn’t to take away from any other love - they’re all important, and mostly unique, each in their own way - but there’s something about a father’s love that is just different. If you have it, cherish it. If you’re not sure, find out and do what you can to correct that. It doesn’t require biology. It doesn’t even require male (I’ve known some moms who successfully pulled double duty). It’s a bit more utilitarian, a bit more taciturn, a bit less flashy, but a father’s love is so critically important. If you’re fortunate enough to be the dad, I hope you know what a blessing you have.

For my dad, I love you and I miss you so very much.

For my children, I hope you always know how much I love you.

Happy Father’s Day.

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