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Father’s Day 2012

I don’t know how your day passed but mine passed with several stories on the radio about sons and fathers. I suppose the theme common to all the stories ran something like I hated my father when I was a kid but when I grew up all I saw was this sorry old man and I couldn’t hate him anymore. I suppose the sub-theme was each son trying to avoid being like his father but slowly and gradually and in some case unwittingly it seemed falling into the same pattern — or a reverse of the father that made the son not an image but a counter-impage. Interesting perspectives.

One fellow told how his father left him when he was small. He would tape stories to his mythical father who would never answer. As he grew up, he increasingly hated this wonderful father who had abandoned him. And then he got to meet the old ne’er-do-well who was his real father. But it wasn’t his “real” father. And all he could feel was sadness for this old man who purported to be his real father.
Quite by accident we watched Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan in which a daughter is abandoned by her mother and builds this portrait in her mind of her perfect mother. Her real mother is actually a high-class prostitute and the two happen to meet. Her real mother never tells her real daughter who she is and allows her to continue to dream of the perfect mother that is the “real” mother in her mind.
Another fellow tells how he grew up in a basically loving family but feeling ill at ease with his parents. He has a ne’er-do-well uncle who, when his father dies, reveals to him that he is his biological Dad. His own parents could not conceive so the doctor — this is back in the 40’s — gets this close relative to donate semen. So, now he is torn between the father he grew up with and this uncle that he had been taught to distrust. So, he sets out to discover who his real father is. He is an English professor these days so the story is well told as are his emotions as the worries about whether he is betraying his “step” Dad by wondering about who is his real father and also wondering whether his untrustworthy Uncle is actually telling the truth. Then too, apparently back then, they mixed the semen so there was still the possibility that his “step” Dad was his biological Dad. DNA testing then becomes possible and he discovers that his “step” Dad was not his biological father. He was somewhat angry with his “step” Dad as any child and parent would be growing up together. Now he suddenly realizes that this man cared for him despite the fact that he was not his biological father — and his love for his “step” father goes up a notch. He suddenly begins again to feel more like his real father. So, was Uncle telling the truth? Yes, they did mix in his sperm but it turns out that they had added yet another person to the test tube — maybe the doctor, maybe the lab assistant, who knows. Uncle was not his father either. And now after 25 years of searching, he has no idea who his biological father is. And then he realizes that it really doesn’t matter to him anymore. The person who had been father to him all along was his “real” father after all. I thought it was a nice story.
I think the thing that struck me listening to these stories was how inadequate every father in every story was. I thought of my own Dad and the story that he never told — how he felt about the father who abandoned him as a small child and with whom he had nothing to do until he initiated a contact when he was 21. He must have gone through that hate the father in the childhood image — and feel sorry for the man he later met who “purported” to be his father. And, then I thought about my son, and what a terrific job of fathering he is doing with our grandson. It will be many years in the future before our grandson really, really realizes how fortunate he is in his father.

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