Sunday, June 20, 2010

All Men Must Make Their Way

I've think I've told you this Father's Day story before and I'm sorry if, in my dotage, I repeat myself. It's an old story-as if I might have any that aren't and it goes back to when I lived in Germany, and 'my family' was just Sigrid and me. She and I had been to the United States the summer after we were married-my parents lived in a pretty close to brand new house in the middle of Sticksville, someplace in Central Jersey. The house itself wasn't at the End of the Earth, at least according to the zip code, though you could see the End of the Earth from the garage as I recall.

It was the first, and only, time Sigrid was to meet my dad. I was/am the oldest of his children and had discovered absence did, indeed, make the heart grow fonder. He and I got along better in the two plus years since I'd enlisted in the Air Force, and had been stationed in Greenland and Germany (with only the Galapagos Islands and Greece left to complete my "G" collection), than we had in the previous two dozen years, which, in retrospect wasn't saying much considering the state of that relationship.

We still didn't have much to say to each other but we were more civil about it than we had been in years. When we told my parents we were getting married I braced for something, anything, but aside from Mom being mom, there wasn't any reaction. The joke between Sigrid and me had long been that I got along better with her father than I did with my own, but our visit to the stateside homestead went very well.

As she does with everyone, Sigrid charmed my father though I'm not sure she cared, which was probably one of the reasons she was so successful. For the first time in many years, I actually felt relaxed enough in his presence to exhale and suspect he felt the same. After we returned to Germany and our lives, the cards for Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries seemed, at least in my memory, to now actually be signed by both of my parents and not just Mom for both.

I had shopped for a Father's Day card at the PX in Frankfurt, next door to the "World Famous Topper Club" which was across the street from the AFN Headquarters where I worked. I don't remember the card, but I remember shopping for it for quite a while until I found what I thought was the right one. This was weeks before Father's Day--I put the card, in the little PX bag, in my leather shoulder bag my wife had given me for our first anniversary that was big enough to pack a lunch for a small army and that I crammed with stuff every day riding the DB back and forth to work.

When I got home, I shared it with Sigrid who agreed it was a wonderful card and, knowing she was married to a birdbrain, organized a 'let's get it signed, addressed and stamped so all you have to do tomorrow is throw it in the mailbox' maneuver. I had the easy part-such is my life with this wonderful woman. It was a few weeks after Father's Day that Sigrid, cleaning out the bag because if she didn't I would eventually be unable to carry it because of the weight, came across the small PX bag that contained, and still did contain, my Dad's card.

I have long been nearly immune to that withering look she's elevated to an art form, but I understood her message and her unhappiness and she was right-the best counter that I could offer was that I could always mail the card the following year. The realist in me could see the pessimist in her as I knew my behavior could only surprise, but never disappoint, her. I thought about that card as I wrote this because, man proposes but God disposes, and before the next Father's Day came so I could (maybe) mail my card, my dad died in his sleep and with him passed a lifetime's worth of missed opportunities.

And if I'm lucky later today to see our two grown children, I'll marvel at the adults they've become-comfortable in their own skin and who've overcome a lifetime of mistakes from a well-meaning clueless clown who has tried to be their father. Perhaps at that moment, I'll recall the words in that long-ago card and realize now I know the things you wanted that you could not say. I swear I never meant to take those things away.
-bill kenny

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