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.