Day 23: Father’s Day

William, Olivia, Ivy, and I with Beth’s hydrangeas in the background

Father’s day is a difficult day for me. Sometimes I just do not feel like much of a father or rather that I do not provide good example for William or Olivia. Somedays I think I do a good job as a father and then there are the days when I am utter failure as a dad. Or, that it is that easier to be critical rather than coach. Perhaps it is because dad’s passing last year makes it more difficult to think about the role of being a dad. But, ultimately, I think it is because I want to do a better job as a dad and I just do not know how to do it.

I do not remember Father’s Day as a kid for my dad. I am sure that we gave cards and gifts. Growing up, I do remember celebrating Mother’s Day. It was a special day with dinner and making mom feel special and loved. But, I do not remember Father’s Day. Yet, I do remember previous Father’s Days for me. My first in 1998, I worked. That was when I was in college studying to be a teacher and I worked at Cozymel’s. I remember 2002 when William learned to ride a bike without training wheels in the cul de sac and, 2004 when dad and I had our final falling out.Warren and I wanted to visit dad and planned to have a boys weekend in Oxford, Mississippi. We began planning it in the late winter. Warren would fly over from Houston and David and I would drive. The kids, just the boys, would come along: William, Parker, and David Michael. In mid-May, about a month before the trip dad called and told us that he was going to have heart surgery to repair some blockages. We almost cancelled the trip but dad said it was fine, we would wait and see how his recovery went and we still planned on coming. His recovery went well and we headed out. I left the Thursday and drove from Chicago. It is long drive alone, 640 miles of interstate. It is a straight shot down I-57 through central Illinois, across the might Mississippi River to I-55 through Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, or rather Memphis, and into Mississippi. Warren flew over Thursday and David was not able to come.

Dad and Julie moved to Oxford Mississippi in the spring of 2001. They decided that Oxford would be a perfect place to spend his retirement. He had retired from Paris on his 65th birthday in 1998 and returned to Houston, where he and Julie already had a home. It was easy to visit him as I could visit the entire family with a single trip. Julie and dad had visited us in the fall of 1999 and it was an odd visit. Dad had Julie had been involved in a car accident before coming and he seemed out of sorts and had difficulty moving around. We visited in 2000. William was and still is a high-energy boy. Sitting and visiting is not compatible with William and that was the expectation when visiting with dad. Looking back, I think dad had always struggled with my energy level and those of my two brothers.

We decided to stay in a hotel close to dad’s house because of his recent heart surgery and space. Dad did not have rooms for two families. But, fortunately, dad’s home in Oxford included a swimming pool where William, Parker, and the dads could burn off energy. June in Oxford, Mississippi is hot and humid and the weather was warmer than normal during our stay. Living in Illinois has its pluses and minuses. The pluses are the climate in the summer is mild with occasional hot and humid days. The minuses are the cold and snowy winters. I have come to enjoy the winters and I especially love the spring and fall seasons. Summer is a blessing as it is often cool enough at night to sleep with windows open. I do not do well with hot and humid and I was wilting in the hot Mississippi afternoon. Warren and I played in the pool with Parker and William. It was fun and both kids had a great time. But, you can only spend so much time in the pool.

When we came in from the pool, we could visit and the kids could play in a room off the family room downstairs. But, they had to be quiet. This is difficult for William as he plays loudly with sound effects. Looking back, I think I was that way, too. Dad’s surgery had slowed him down, though I did not have a reference point having not seen him since our visit in 2000. I had spoken to him but not seen him. Beth’s parents were my only reference to compare and they really had not been slowed by age, like dad. Julie, who is a year younger than dad, had a great deal of energy. Parker is a couple years younger than William and they played well together. William had brought Rescue Heroes to play with and they had fun together. Dad wanted to visit and it was difficult keeping William occupied and quiet. We went to a catfish place for dinner and it was difficult for William to sit for dinner. There was strained mood at the table because dad did not feel well and the energy level of the kids (and his own children) was too high. The catfish was good and we talked about our plans for Saturday a visit to William Faulkner’s estate and more swimming.

Dad, Wiiliam, Parker, and Julie at Rowan Oak in June 2004

Saturday morning was warm and humid and we met dad and Julie at Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s estate. It is a beautiful wooded area large enough for kids to run, play, and burn off energy. It was also large enough to wear out dad. The home was not open and we were only able to walk the grounds. Majestic oaks provided shade and cedars lined the walk from the road to the house. Dad rested and we took pictures of dad, Julie, and the kids. It was warm and dad tired quickly; we did not stay long.  These are the only pictures I have of dad and William together. We returned to dad’s and swimming.  We took a break a came inside. Parker went down for a nap. I tried to get William to take one, too but he was wound up and would not fall asleep. That is when he tried to watch television and played with the remote. Dad snapped and was angry and that was the straw. Harsh words were said; and William and I left. I was angry and frustrated. I wanted a grandfather for William and I wanted to dad for me. I had neither.

Dad and Julie walk back to the car after visiting Rowan Oak, June 2004

I would not return to dad’s house until he became ill last year. William and I left the next morning for Wheaton. Dad and I scarcely spoke again, and we never spoke of the incident, though I am certain that he was critical of my parenting that day.  I have had a lot of time to think about that visit, I was wrong. I should have simply moved on. However, I was looking for more than dad was willing or able to provide. I had drawn a line and made my stand. I was foolish and regret it. Watching dad slip away last year was difficult and when I arrived in his room that first day he recognized me and seemed to be glad I was there. I was glad I was there, too. Father’s day is never easy for me and being a dad is not an easy job. I need to work at it and remember that despite my own father’s faults he gave what he was willing to give. I need to remember him for who he was, not wanted I wanted him to be.

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