Family Guy: Father's day glue and glitter, so blissfully uncomplicated
FATHER'S Day is not something we observe very religiously in our house anymore.
Okay, when the kids were small, they'd bring home some sort of art project or other they had been told to make in school, then present it to me in bed at a suitably god-awful hour. Once, I recall, even accompanied by a home-made smoothie, complete with electric-green food colouring.
And don't get me wrong, this was all very sweet - so sweet in the case of the latter, in fact, I could stand a spoon in it. "Is there flour in this, guys?" I think I winced, still struggling to see. "Nope," they said, "just sugar."
But it's something you eventually grow out of giving to your dad, right? Those art-and-craft cards, the dad-size T-shirt with little hand prints on it, all the 'I love yous.
Father's Day was something you knew, as a kid, was coming weeks in advance. You'd plan for it, then solemnly march forward, head bowed, card in hand. That's what I think I remember.
Did I tell my dad I loved him? I'm pretty sure I did, at least once a year, in glue and glitter, but I'm sure I never heard him say it back. Those were different times. It wasn't expected. Dads were the tough guys.
In time, I guess I just stopped making the cards, grew up, eventually stopped even calling him much.
I heard someone say once that there are three stages in the relationship between a son and his dad. In the first, you think your dad is a god, that he knows everything, is unbeatable, omnipotent.
The second stage is the bitter disappointment of realising he is none of those things, that he's really just a man, muddling along and doing the best he can to figure it all out, much like the rest of us.
The third stage is forgiving your dad for this, for being human.
I guess I never quite got to the third stage.
I can't help thinking that I might have hurt dad's feelings a little when I decided to track down my real father. "You know he was in prison," said dad. I turned my shoulder to him. I couldn't quite look him in the eyes.
I flew to Los Angeles to meet my real father. Coincidently, it was Father's Day, which I don't think I even realised until I heard a message on my phone from the call I missed; our first-born, then aged just two, in a high little voice: "Happy fadda-day." I kept this message and played it over and over for years.
We got on like a house on fire, my real father and I (I never once called him 'dad'). Then, I guess, over time, that fire slowly sort of burned down to a smoulder. We went over to see him in his home a few times with the kids, but eventually, the long distance calls petered out.
I never got to ask him how he'd ended up in jail, or to tell him how much I'd come to love him. He died after losing a short fight with the cancer that he had kept secret all that time.
At his wake, I met an old friend of his who'd known him all the way back around the time I was born. I politely cornered him. How had my father ended up in prison? It was something that had changed the course of my life, led to me being brought up by someone else in another country. I suddenly needed to know more than anything. Had my real father been a bad guy?
"He never told you?" said the friend, then proceeded to do just that. The truth was a sucker punch.
A close member of his family had been arrested on a serious drugs charge, but said she couldn't do time because she was pregnant. My father stepped in, took the blame, told the cops it was all on him.
He did two hard years in a Federal penitentiary. While he was inside, he found out that the family member had lied. She'd never been pregnant, and had gone free. He never spoke to her again.
Back home, I didn't tell dad what I'd learned. When I told him my real father had died, he said, "I'm sorry to hear that." And I think he genuinely was.
Secretly though, I couldn't help blaming him for believing the worst.
When dad died a few years later, we hadn't spoken in a while. I was annoyed with him over something and stuck to my stupid guns. Kissing him for the last time, I whispered "I love you" in his ear, but it was too late, at least I think it was.
If he heard me, his breathing never changed, and later, after I'd gone, it stopped altogether.
Father's Day reminds me that I'd love to still have a dad. Either one of them would do, preferably both. If I did, I probably still wouldn't send a card or call, though in retrospect, I love how uncomplicated glue and glitter now seems.
Me? I expect a big present for Father's Day this year. A huge one. The eldest will be home safe from his year away. We'll be a whole family again.
And though we don't do much of the 'I love you' stuff anymore, I'm fine with that. There's no secrets between us. And hey, someone has to be the tough guy, right?