My mother’s love has always been clear, easy for me to see, feel. My father’s? Perhaps you were given what was thought to be important…

Ocie

I glance at the door and the clock in one swift movement. The party is winding down and still he has not arrived. Only a part of me moves around the house, greeting and thanking friends and relatives who came to congratulate me on my success.

But a part of me did not show up for this, just like he didn’t.  I imagine that absent part  back in my room – pissy, edgy, throwing things against the wall. Pacing to relieve my anger, my resentment. After all I have accomplished, he still isn’t here.

My mother smiles at me from across the room, looking up from the food tray she is carries. She catches my eye and I know that she has also felt my mood, my anger. She gets it, she always gets it. But then, she was there for me, always. Every game that rocked on the verge of defeat, every win with her smiles and tears.  Always there, ready to share with me or stand aside to let me be with my winning team-mates. Years and years of her on the sidelines or in the auditorium for the times I was honored. Him, a shadow; a sometimes; a “maybe” part of my life.

What’s more important out there? I think staring at the door he has yet to grace.  What holds priority over the college graduation party of your only child?

I am a Brown graduate! I want to shout, and unconsciously I beat that message on my chest. An honors graduate! Does that not mean anything to him?

“Are you ok, darling?” my white haired, petite grand-aunt asks me, catching my hand in midstream. I looked down at her small wizened face from my 6’ 6” frame.  She cranes her neck to look up at me, returning my captured arm to my side. I resist the urge I used to have as a young teenager to pick her up and move her to another spot in the room. It was easy for me to do once my height came in. She would protest and kick her feet, pretending anger. But her laughter always betrayed her.

“You be good” she tells me, lovingly patting my hand as she walks away.

Be good I think. Through my years of growing up inDetroit, co-existing with the gangs on the street, the friends with the drugs, “be good” always rang out. I was tempted so many times. Maybe then he would notice, I’d think. Maybe then he would leave the office a bit early, skip a board meeting to see me, instead of never being there.

But somehow be good was instilled in me. My long powerful legs became my ally when trouble tried to confront me on the streets or in the school bathroom. My body,  brains and heart keeping me on the right side of life.

He never knew the battles I fought. He never knew of the days when it would have been easier to take the rolled marijuana cigarette between my lips and suck the smoke into my lungs. No, there were always the meetings, the damned meetings, the business that never allowed him time for me.

My thoughts, my negative, angry, thoughts, now have the best of me. I move from the living room, with the laughter of those who did choose to come out to support me, past the sliding glass doors separating the inside from the outside world. I want to clear my head. I had decided long ago that his absence wouldn’t matter, it would not affect me. Yet today that decision is long forgotten, pushed aside, allowing my anger to fill in the space.  I step out on the patio crossing the red pattern bricks to the edge where the grass begins.

I hear the sound of the door, the opening, the closing. I know who it is, who it always is.

“Ocie” she asks in her quiet voice. “What is it son?”

I say it. For the first time in my life I say it. Years and years of scorn rise in my voice.  “He isn’t here, he’s never here.”

“Ah, your father.  Honey, this was unplanned, it was a last minute community meeting, which shouldn’t have lasted this long,” she says gently, guiding me to sit down on a bench.

“Of course, there’s always some kind of meeting,” fighting back the tears of frustration I swore I would never shed over him. “He didn’t have to go.  Would it have hurt for him to show up just once in my life?”

“You don’t know?” she asks, her brown eyes searching my face.

“Know what?”

“This is what he does for you; every committee, every board meeting, the building of his business. For him the most important gift he could give you was to be successful. And not just making the money, but giving of his time and energy to make the world a better place for his son. Every day his commitment is to you, to us.

You know your dad. People listen to him, they respect him. Look at all the people in our community that are in our house today. He made a difference, and part of that difference was for you. The world was changing when you were born. More opportunities were opening up. But where were the African-American mentors? I tell you, there were none, or very few willing to help once they made it. Your dad thought it was important for you and for this community to see what a successful African-American businessman could be. He never had that in his life, but he wanted to make sure you had it in yours.”

“But what about my games? He never came,” I whine back, sounding more like a child than a twenty-two year old man.

“I told him about the games. About every win, every loss. Each night after he came home, after you were in your room, he’d make me recount every step you took on the court, every honor you won at school. He’d close his eyes trying to put himself in those moments, smiling at the good points, shaking his head on the rough ones. Every game, every honor, played back for him.

You see, son, your dad gave you what he could, what he thought was important. What he thought would give you the best opportunity when you were ready to venture into the world. Maybe you don’t see it that way, but he did.”

I flash on the late nights of study when I would pass him in the hallway. Me going for food to the kitchen, him exhausted, just home from another late night meeting, loosening his tie as he walked back to the bedroom. My bitterness hardly allowing for a civil greeting to him as we passed in the hallway. I wanted to show him he didn’t matter to me any more than I to him.

For the second time that day I feel a loving hand pat mine. My mother rises and walks back to the door, leaving me alone to think her words over. My mother’s love has always been clear, easy for me to see, to feel.  My father’s?

I have a new perspective to mull over. I never thought… my mind trails off. I was so busy judging from my world, I never saw his.

I hear the sound of the sliding door signaling its opening again. Familiar steps cross the patio, steps I now understand better than before. I rise and turn. His smile is wide, his eyes proud.

“There’s my son,” he says, arms opening to hug me. I smile back and greet his eyes.

“Glad you’re here, Dad” I say, embracing him for the first time.

copyright Delarde2012

The first Father’s Day, without your father, getting by

Father’s Day

By Diana Elarde

I check my watch, weighing the time.  Just enough minutes to get my morning walk in before I have to shower and leave to get my mother.  The clock in my mind ticks as I try to locate shoes, my music and the keys to the condo.   Finally ready, I confirm my allotted time, the music starts as I walk down the steps from the condo on to the sidewalk.

Once outside I see the crowd gathering in the town park down the street.  Parked cars are lined up and down, and the end, the corner is blocked off.  As I approach the park I see people in their running outfits, preparing for a morning run through the streets.  Some runners are on the ground stretching to loosen morning muscles.  Others use their car as leverage; placing legs and arms in odd positions on fenders and open doors to achieve the same goal. Stretched and warm, they jog to the park.

Somehow I missed the announcement about this event.  My morning walk is now interrupted, requiring me to skirt around those who have the priority today.

It is not that I mind the presence of the others, it is that I have gotten used to the quiet walks, with the morning sounds or my music. I usually don’t have to dodge and avoid packs of runners, blocked off roads or policemen serious about protecting the runners as they cross streets.

I find a flyer on a pole. “Support our Father’s Day Run, our fathers are important!”

Ah, Father’s Day.  I had tried all week to erase it from my mind.  I went out of my way to ignore the cards in the stores, the ads on TV, and mostly the dull ache in my heart.  It is my first Father’s Day without my father and I struggle to find where this celebration now exists within me.

Later today I will take my mother to the cemetery.  The last place we honored his life.  We will stand at his graveside, still waiting for the marker to be finished.   We will say our hellos, our goodbyes, not knowing now how to celebrate him. Still confused and saddened by the roles we are forced to play now that he has passed.

I look at the pack of runners all anxious to start their run.  Fathers hold hands with smaller children, getting them excited to start.  The new baby strollers are all revving up with their slick aerodynamic design, carefully crafted for today’s active families.

I tried to explain to my husband this week about the fathers that meet at shops and the farmers’ market with their kids in tow.   Early Saturday morning I see children leaving coffee shops with hot chocolate mustaches, sipping their way down the street, steps behind dad and the stroller. The fathers stuff the strollers with their purchases from the farmers’ market, arranging a head of lettuce next to a small child. They stand in groups, watching their kids throw pennies into the park fountain.  What do the dads talk about when they meet on the streets? Do they ask, “Hey is your kid rolling over yet?”   “How many teeth does he have?”   Or do they talk sports. “How about those Tigers?”  “Did you catch the last World Cup game?”   Or even, did “Venus win her match yesterday?”

I marvel at their level of involvement, their overall enjoyment of spending the time with their children. I like to see the fathers interacting with their children.  Somehow in this world it gives me hope.  For if more fathers feel connected with their kids, maybe conflict would quiet.  Maybe negotiation will be the first choice, not second or third, when differences break out. Maybe we can build a world where children are cherished and do not go to bed hungry or alone.  Perhaps by understanding the simple world of a child, the adult world won’t seem so complex. It’s a funny hope.  One that doesn’t probably doesn’t make much sense, but I can’t help to feel it is significant for our future.

My dad was very involved with us, but back when I was a child that was rare.  Most of my friends didn’t see much of their fathers, gone to do business, or golfing or to events far from appropriate for a small companion.

I remember a day when I must have been about seven years old my father took me to a building on the campus of the University of Michiganin Ann Arbor.  He held my hand as we walked and I felt so important, happy that my father had decided to take me with him for the day.  Surprisingly I still know where that building is, its street, it location.  To this day, that building still evokes a special bond of how impactful that moment was to me.

My father was an elementary teacher for thirty years, at a time when very few men taught those grades.  He influenced and connected with many children during his tenure.  Teaching – his love, his passion.  At the time of his passing I was amazed by the number of his past students who wrote notes to us through FaceBook telling us how grateful they were to have known him, how he influenced their lives so long ago.  I became a teacher one wrote. From another, the military is where I made my home after his WWII stories; I became a writer, he encouraged me to write.   Different lives forming and transforming, influenced by a man who for many was like a second father during that year in his classroom.

And what of my time with my father?  I struggle to know how to define it, to understand it now.  Confused by what was between us.  The times when I was his young daughter, the days when he was ’Dad’. And then, the dark days – the hardness, the anger his illness created in his last few years. So many difficult sick days, marked in sadness, in stress. Long nights in the ER and such exhaustion. Helpless times when his breathe was short, shallow, scary.   Days of before his illness merge with his sick days, hard to separate, to accommodate.  All too fresh, too painful to think of or sort out.  “Time,” I tell myself like a silent prayer to be heard, “just time, the good memories will win over.” But on this day, this first Father’s Day without my dad, I just do what I can to get by.

copyright2012 Elarde