I have written about memories of my dad. Although dead for over five decades, he is a constant in my life. As I contemplated what to write about this week, I read an essay and poem by Tom Chester. The essay was published yesterday on Father’s Day in the Arizona Daily Star. The poem is published on Tom’s website. I found both to be very moving and a fitting tribute to fathers on their special day.
A Father’s Letter
On Father’s Day, people often write letters and essays about their own fathers. In contrast, I want to offer a father’s perspective in this letter to my two daughters.
To my daughters,
On this Father’s Day, I want to tell you how proud I am to be your father. While there is often a close relationship between fathers and daughters, I write this letter to tell you about ours, for after all, ours is special. There is much to say, but I want to avoid any temptation toward sentimentality. Our connection is better than that.
As I compose this letter, I think about my own father, dead now for three decades. I still have a letter from him, likely the only one he ever wrote to me. It is from the summer I turned 19 when I was working away from home for the first time. The letter is mundane, advice on the best route to take when I drove back after my job ended. Yet, it is one of the most intimate connections I still have with him. He exists now only in a few mementos like that letter, some occasional memories that arrive unexpectedly into my conscience, and glimpses of him when I look into a mirror.
Just as I see traces of my father in my features and my personality, so I see reflections of me in both of you. The similarities have been refracted enough by genetics, though, so that we are different in many ways. I wonder what memories you will have of me thirty years on. I am sure there will be brief scenes of family events and I hope thoughts about my values, my views on life, and my ideas on how to engage the world.
Perhaps those things matter little, however. Rather than consider my legacy to you, it seems more fitting to think about what you have given me and the ways you have changed me as a person. I am much different than I would have been had you two not come into my life. You have taught me much about myself, too much to describe in a short letter like this. You also have taught me about life itself. When you were born, you were totally dependent on me (and on your mom as well, of course). As you grew, you began to separate yourself from me, becoming your own persons until you finally broke away and started your own lives independent from mine. I increasingly realize that the process continues and will evolve until our roles will have completely reversed, and in my old age, I will likely become dependent upon you. Already I often seek your advice and help on things.
Being your father has been damned hard — not because of you but because of my emotional connection to you. Someone once wrote that having children means becoming a hostage to fate. Even though you are adults I am still a hostage because I understand clearly that well-being is tenuous and that the vagaries of fate swirl around to intrude without warning.
I know I have made many mistakes in raising you, as with all parents, but I did my best. Fortunately, you are resilient and have not suffered too much from the experience. Despite the temptations, I mostly have avoided giving you advice. I have come to realize that you know more about yourselves and your world than I, and that much of my advice would not apply. Moreover, I have made many errors by following my own advice, enough so that I want to avoid causing you to make mistakes in yours. Finally, I have tried to raise you to think for yourself, so my giving advice would be hypocritical.
It is common for a parent to say to a child, “I love you,” and I certainly feel that way toward you two. Just as important, though, is that I like you. I respect you and admire your character. I trust you with my wellbeing. I trust you with my life, too. As I age, I am comforted by the agreement I have with each of you that at the end of my life you will treat me like a beloved dog—keep me comfortable and if necessary when the time comes, have me put down. I know that either of you would do that without compunction or regret. You understand.
I am proud that our relationship is one of mutual respect and admiration, but also one that accepts that we all three suffer from the foibles and imperfections of our species. I have tried to imbue in you a sense of living intently and intentionally. I hope you will carry a memory of that. I hope also that your memories of me will be touched by laughter and that you will have many stories to tell about your Old Man.
I hold you in my heart.
The following is a poem about a father’s legacy that Tom wrote and posted on his website TURN-STONE – Observations on life, society, and how to be human and humane in a complex world dominated by technology. I highly recommend reading some of his other observations on life.
Let us talk of legacies,
What my father left me
And what I will pass on to you,
A notable estate.
I mourned for my father
When he died so long ago.
I grieved as he slipped
Through the fingers of memory.
He is with me still, though.
As I glance in the mirror
I see him looking back,
A half smile on his lips.
I hear him speak through me,
His words and phrases on my lips.
I feel him looking through my eyes
At a world long lost to him.
Although your memories
Of me will blur and fade as well.
You won’t be done with me,
Nor I with you.
I will be there in your words
And in stories you tell over wine.
I, too, will hide behind the mirror
To slip unbidden into your reflection.