And like that — poof — I’m a father.
Didn’t have to fill out a form. Didn’t have to get a license. Didn’t have to kill a wild boar with my spear and eat its still-beating heart. No test. No spirit quest. No nothing.
Just a paroxysm of delight — a darling dalliance with my beautiful wife — and now we’ve a little drunken homeless man in our life that we call “Baby Ben.”
In italics, this time: holy shit.
The strange thing is, for the last several years now, Father’s Day has been something of a maudlin day for me. My father passed a few years ago, as you may know, and so when this day rolls around it’s about a day of conspicuous absence, a day where the void of exclusion is felt most keenly. Hey! Not going to send him a card. Not going to call him. Not going out to dinner with him. Not sharing a glass of blackberry brandy.
In that canyon, a swirling stinging sirocco of never-gonna-happen-agains.
Here, I am, in a different role. Now I’ve got a child — even moreso, a son — of my own. On the one hand, therein lies further cause for sadness here today: Ben has one grandfather now, an awesome guy, a guy who will handily own the job and embrace it the way a bear embraces a falling tree full of honey, but he’s down one grandfather. He’ll never meet my Dad. And damn, my Dad would’ve been a bitchin’ grandfather. He was a good father, but we didn’t always have the best relationship — but he’d have been a great grand-dad (or Pop-Pop or Grampa or whatever the hell he would’ve been called). That’s even sadder, right? Here’s my son and he’ll never have my Dad to show him how to fish or shoot cans off a fence-rail or look for deer or find weird rusted treasures at creepy flea markets nationwide. In that way, the void just yawned wider: the canyon walls crumbling and stretching to accommodate a deeper oblivion.
But then, on the other side, there I am. The kid has a father. (Uh, me, in case you haven’t been paying attention. Or the mailman, if I haven’t been paying attention.) And my Dad’s not here to show him how to fish or shoot cans or any of that, but I am. And through me, those things flip and switch from never-gonna-happen-again to gonna-happen-again-someday. My father’s ghost, his callused hands (and missing pinky finger), maybe getting a second life through me. It won’t be the same, of course — like I’ve said before, we’re all just blurry, blotchy fascimiles of those who came before us, each generation thinner and cut with more water than the last — but it’s something. And I’ll bring new things to the table, too, and in that the weird goofy DNA of fatherhood keeps on going.
Point is, I miss my Dad, but I’ll bring him back through the stories I can tell to my son and through the things I can teach and the adventures we can have.
It’s not everything, but it’s something, and something is better than nothing.
Miss you, Dad. Love you, Dad. Hope you can pause in your wild romp across the Happy Hunting Grounds and look down upon your grand-son and maybe give him a wink and a waggle of your ruined pinky.
Happy Father’s Day, everybody else.
(Sidenote: that photo above is from an early pheasant hunting trip when I was a kid. That’s my gawky, beardless self there second in from the left, and my father the one with the NRA hat. I may be a bespectacled intellectual moderate, but you can be damn sure my son’s going to have a fishing rod, a knife, and a rifle if he wants it. And he’ll learn to use and respect each of those in kind, just as I had done. I won’t make him hunt, but if he wants to, we can do that. Hell, you’ll note that I went just last year to bag more pheasants in honor of the old man. Though, I just can’t hunt deer.)
(Second sidenote: some folks think that B-Dub looks like me, and that might be true. Heck, he even does my one cocked eyebrow look — a dubious, incredulous face. But a lot of the time I see my father’s face in there, too. Which is at times spooky, but at all times, heartening.)