My father was born 90 years ago today. He died 45 years later. Which means he’s been dead the same number of years he lived. Cold, round numbers that fail to tell who he was.
Dad impacted every aspect of my life, although I couldn’t see it at the time. I was too absorbed in myself to realize how much a part of me he was. His temper, his ambition, his eye-rolling puns. But also his passion to do right: it wasn’t until he died that I learned how many people admired him, how many he’d encouraged and treated kindly.
Every Christmas Eve we’d drop off a gift for his answering service lady on the way to our family gathering. I’d squirm impatiently as Dad held her twisted hands and chatted her up. She had advanced rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to a wheel chair. I had no idea what was wrong with her; I just knew I was uncomfortable when Dad insisted I bend down and give her a hug, which she received as though it were a bag of jewels. I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember her name. How I wish I’d treated her more kindly.
Like Dad did.
As a teenager, all I could see were his imperfections. Mark Twain said that at about the same age, “My father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around,” but years later “I was astonished at how much the old man had learned.”
It took me longer to realize your worth, Dad. I’d so love to have you and Mom here for the holidays, to reminisce with you, to tell you how grateful I am for the things you did get right. But you’re not. I had to learn who you were and how you felt by being you, that is by being a father and watching my own children learn to forgive me.
So, here goes:
I forgive you for not being perfect. Do you forgive me? Never mind. I have kids, so I already know the answer.
Merry Christmas, Dad!