Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Secrets: Do Sons Need Fathers? Do Fathers Need Fathers?

Here’s the inciting incident for these thoughts.

Two weeks ago, an acquaintance on Facebook whom I knew in college made a comment about a photo I was in.  Apparently, she knew the photographer.  The photographer and my friend had an online discussion about how small a world it is and how they know me and each other.  And then my friend wrote this:

“I know his dad.  He’s like an uncle to me.”

And Valerie read this and said, “That’s funny.  He’s not even like an uncle to you.”

I’d forgotten this is how I’d known this girl.  That this was our initial connection.  She was a spiderweb trailing back to a different part of the forest where my dad lived and I never ventured.


Val’s right.  He’s not even like an uncle to me.  We haven’t seen each other in more than a decade.  The last time we spoke was five/six years ago.  And that was by accident.  I’d meant to call my brother, Craig.  CR is right above DA for Dad in my phone.

When I’d accidentally dialed it I was walking home through my Brooklyn neighborhood.  I had something on my mind to talk to Craig about. And then Craig didn't answer. Instead,  it was that voice I knew and didn’t know. Probably the voice of long buried lullabies and ancient soothings.  And he called me Shamus, the name I used to be, my nickname until I was 9.  The confusion poured into the moorings of my adult self.  It took me a while to recover in the conversation.

His voice is deep like mine.  Whatever rocks he swallowed to achieve that sound passed to me.  But we don’t sound the same. His tone is calm, almost fighting a deep boredom, with a hint of amusement.  My voice is a little more sardonic maybe, a little quicker to jump octaves for a joke.  But it’s the same well.  You can hear it.

We talked. Of usual things.  I never pushed him to talk of the absences or explanations so he never did.  Even if I wanted to ask him something, I didn’t.  Maybe I was scared to sound needy.  But usually it was just:  “Why? What’s the point after all these years?”

So we engaged in light fare.  Movies, books.  He’s a smart dude. So I hear.  I can’t say I’ve spent enough time with him to truly know.  My father is more rumor than flesh to me.  Since I was 6, I would say I’ve spent an accumulated total of two months around him.


Sometimes when I say stuff like this about my father, people get sad.  It bums the room out.  But I’m not telling a sad story anymore.  I’m just telling my story.  This is how I grew up and I’m not sad about how I grew up.  The amalgamation of myself is the result of many things.  My Mom’s cancer, my obsessive writing, the echoes of Michigan, the friends I kept, my family's humor, the closeness of my grandparents, the absence of my father.

I wouldn’t change it because I don’t know who I’d be without it.

But I’ve been wondering this past week, like I’ve wondered many times over the years:  Should I make another effort to reconnect?  Should we acknowledge our biology, our short history, and make something work? Even limited communication?

As you can imagine, I have a few arguments/counter-arguments.


Do I just call him/email him and be like, “Hey, Daddio. Long time no talk.”?  Do we just set aside the past? Start fresh?

Because he’s never met my wife.  Or my kid.  I don’t know if he knows how I am or where I live or what I do.  On the flipside, I don’t know how he is or where he lives or what he does.  Our lives are equally opaque to each other. Unless he reads my blog.  I don’t own the internet. He could.

Is a fresh start fair?  Does he deserve that?  Is there a statute of limitations on our mistakes?  Do we just shake hands with the past and let it move on?


Is it about reconciliation? Getting it all out and then moving on?  Will it be satisfying? Will it mean what I want?

Do I even want that?  Will I be halfway into this and think, “It’s too late. This has been too long. I’ve repaired these roads, I don’t need to reopen these cases.”  Will I really use mixed metaphors?

Is this what he’s dreading?  Or is this what he wants to get off his chest? Don’t we all want to explain ourselves a little?  I don’t know.  I can’t decide which I want.


Sometimes I put myself in his shoes or my mom’s.  I think: by this time in my life, my Mom was divorced twice with four kids.   I think: Edie’s going to be two tomorrow.  If I were my dad, in the next year, Valerie would leave me, go back to her parents.  I wonder how these things would feel. The life he envisioned gone.  I wonder how he navigated through those waters.  If he still is.


Does a son need a father?  Does a father need a father?  Even now?  After so much time?  After all this pause, could we even be that? Or should we?  What is there besides titles and dna to keep us tethered?

It’s all questions.  And they could all be answered with one email.  I just can’t figure out if that one email would be a step forward or step backward.