If I Wrote a Love Song For My Father
If I were to write a love song for my father, what it might sound like? A dirge perhaps, dark and lonely, haunting, wistful with what could have been, heavy with emptiness of unrequited love. And the words — they might cry with rage, might swoon with ache, might drip with longing.
My early memories are of a strong, determined man, one larger than life with thick hands and tree trunks for legs, moody like the moon, charming and clever one moment, a frightening, tyrannical giant the next. From him I learned awe and anger, caprice and temper, the sharp cut of sarcasm. From him I learned chagrin.
Today, he has shrunken, whether by age or disappointment, perhaps both. I am no longer afraid. Sad, yes, but not intimidated. Would it shock him to know this? Would it surprise him to see that the little girl he cowed into submission has found her power? No. He claims it for his own. “When you make it, I’ll take all the credit,” he said once. He meant it as a joke, as all the sophisticatedly weak do. At the time, it irked me, but the years have taught me that he is entitled to some credit. Because of him, I have learned to stand solid on ground of my own, to declare myself, to claim my truth, to love and to give and to know why I do it.
I found that as much can be learned from absence as from example; the life I have created is sodden with truths learned as opposites. I have become that which I could not see, that which I ached to know. I filled the gap left by a frightened father with my own strength, my own fierce love for myself, for my husband, for my children. Because of the lack, I have become greater, more, stronger, braver and truer than I might otherwise have been.
Still, I love him, in the way we love what is not good for us but is still familiar. He can be funny, has a certain declarative take on the world; the life he has built for himself makes him happy. It doesn’t include much of my family or I, but it is admirable, in its way, for having been built out of ruins. In that sense, he offers an example of grit and determination, of working with what the world has given. I’ve used that example in my own life, encouraged myself with notice of his second chance. No person is ever all bad — just sometimes not the right match for another.
If I were to write a love song for my father, it might scream, bitter and vengeful, it might sob and lick wounds. Might, but it won’t, because I won’t write it, I won’t sing it. Instead, I soothe my longing heart with bandages of other love. My grandfather’s love is a life ring. From him I learned love’s guidance. My husband’s love is a salve. From him I have learned love’s endurance. My father-in-law’s love is a gauze. One day, in a letter, he offered to be my second father, although he had already six daughters, two sons of his own. From him I have learned love’s infinity.
This piece originally appeared on “The Keeping Blog” — Minerva Rising.