My father died twenty-nine years ago. He was seventy-three years old when he died. I was twenty-nine. This year I pass the half-way point of having my father in my life. From now on, he will have been physically absent from my life for more years than he was present.
At the time of my father’s death, I was living with my young family in Manitoba. He was 2,000 kms away in British Columbia. When he died, I thought my father was old and that I was extremely mature. It turns out, I was wrong. Seventy-three, I know now, is not old. Twenty-nine for me, was far from mature.
I was never close to my father. We lived in two largely separate worlds. His life had always seemed strange and remote to me. He was an enormously self-contained studious man. In my experience, he was never affectionate nor demonstrative. I do not recall my father ever telling me he loved me. We did not wrestle or play games. We never built anything together. I do not really remember ever doing anything just the two of us on our own. Having a son came to my father I think as a desperate shock. I was a puzzle he never managed to unravel.
At certain points in our relationship my father and I discussed ideas. The exercise of intellect was our one common ground; although, we seldom agreed.
My father never knew me as an adult. There may be people who have reached maturity by the time they are twenty-nine; I was not one of them. So, my father never had the chance to know me as the person I would become. And I never got to relate to him with any measure of wisdom, acceptance, or grace.
It is curious and sad that I only ever knew my father through the eyes of my youthful arrogance and judgment. He was gone before I was ever able to appreciate the struggles and pressures he faced. As a brash young man I was unable to sympathize with his insecurities, doubts and fears.
When I was twenty-nine, the operational rules of life still seemed so clear and simple. I knew how the world should function and that it was only a matter of time before my strategies were guaranteed to yield success.
I looked at my father’s life and what I saw appeared to me inadequate. He seemed to have settled for less than he was destined to be. I believed my father and his generation had made a mess of the world and bore a burden of responsibility for the pain and tragedy I saw so clearly. He should have done better.He should not have compromised. He should have been more committed, more determined, more passionate about the values he held.
I see my father in a kinder light now that there are only fifteen years separating me from the age he was when he died.
It is less clear to me now exactly how to operate the world in order to alleviate all the pain and suffering of humanity. I am not always quite as confident as I once was about the best choices and the most obvious avenues to success. In fact I am less clear what “success” might even look like.
Life is more complicated now than it was in the years before my father died. Had my father lived longer, or had I matured more quickly, we might have had a different relationship.
But my father is not well-served by my regrets. I can only hope that in some way he is conscious today that I see him now with greater compassion and more gentleness.
Seeing my father on this Father’s Day of 2012, I am most of all conscious of how similar we are. In many ways I have become the man he was.
I hope this seeing, enables me to encounter the people in my life with less judgment and condemnation. I hope seeing my father from years of greater experience than were available to me during his life, may enable me to meet life now with greater understanding and deeper compassion. I hope my father understands that the judgements with which I dismissed him in my youth were born more of my ignorance and unconsciousness than his failure.