On Sundays, we had every newspaper you could imagine scattered all over the kitchen table from the local (then called) Daily Home News (Nat C worked for it a lifetime later; enjoy the bigger and far better he went on to; breathtaking stuff) through the NY Daily News that, before our parents met and became our parents the Mayor of New York read on the radio during a delivery strike just before World War II ended, through the NY Times, America's newspaper of record and the dreariest newspaper with NO funnies of any kind and hardly even a photograph on the front page.
The good thing in going to church on Sunday was the breakfast that followed and entrance into the kingdom of Heaven (wanted to get that in just in case Monsignor Harding is reading this despite his being dead and all). After Mass there were hard rolls with scrambled eggs and bacon. Actually the bacon was cooked first and the grease used to cook the eggs that were made with milk and fluffed so big they looked like yellow clouds.
Our father died thirty years ago this past Memorial Day; my brother's recollections of his last day with Dad ring as true as any memory I have of the man. I'd spent part of every day since his death trying to have the last word of a discussion I never started with him, hoping but never believing, I could finally understand him. For too many years, I was terrified of him-his wit, his insight, his caustic observations, his heavy hands, his unyielding expectations that each of us be the absolute best it was possible to be, always.
For too many more years, I hated him. I vowed to be everything he never was and, instead, along the way became, in so many ways, the person he wanted me to be because he wanted me to be the best me I could. I didn't know that had a lot to do with my inability to see who he was and to know who I am. He was right, of course, you cannot define yourself by who you are not, but only by who you are and what you try to be.
We were six children but really more like two cohorts of three children, each group relatively close in age with disparate interests and ideas. We have all grown to be adults he would have enjoyed-whether he could have ever made us understand that is another matter entirely. Our father was very complex, with delights and demons in almost equal numbers. I see him when I see pictures of my brothers and I feel his nearness when I am with my own children, who are confident if not outright cocky, bright if not brilliant, fabulous if not also a little flawed and I realize the hardest job he ever had was in being our father.
I'm grown old thinking I could know everything and have had to grow up to accept I will never know everything better. I remember the fights though never the causes. I can recall the antics and reactions but never the background or the final resolutions. I can't tell you if we had a million arguments or just one that lasted for decades but I know now it took two of us to create a blaze that could consume two people so completely. I have scars that will never heal and the realization I gave as good as I got.
This year, after thirty, I can close the book on the bitterness of memories I can't change and put the shadows of what could have been to bed for the rest of my life. I can do nothing over but my children are proof I can do everything better because of what I learned and from whom. I cannot believe I finally got to this place. Happy Father's Day, Dad, and to you reading this, whoever and wherever you are on this Father's Day as well.
"Now the years have gone and I have grown from that seed you've sown. But I didn't think there'd be so many steps I'd have to learn on my own. I was young and didn't know what to do when I saw your best steps stolen away from you. Now I'll do what I can. I'll walk like a man."