Originally written as a Facebook Note June 21, 2009 I republish my memories and thoughts about my father here for others to consider as they think about their own father.
When I think of my father I think of the day he died. I think of his temper and obstinate assuredness. And I think of the fact that he was there at every important event of my life. He was there. And that is what I find most important in my thoughts.
Someone once said “90% of life is … just showing up.” I shared this quote with my son today as we ate our Father’s Day breakfast, a delicious confection of Dungeness Crab Eggs Benedict, honeydew melon, and hash browns prepared by my seventeen year old boy. Like so many things shared by father’s to their seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen year old sons and daughters he didn’t subscribe to the quotes logic and sentiment. He said, “That doesn’t make sense. What about the times when you show up and don’t do anything?”
I’m sure I disappointed him and failed to convince him with my brief uninspired retort, “Well, that would make up the other ten-percent. Wouldn’t it?” Nothing further was said; and I’m sure he didn’t give it another thought. But I hope, like so many of the things I try to impart onto my children that a time will come that the quote and its sentiment might settle in his mind and create wisdom.
Truly, I don’t know if “just showing up” is 90-percent of life, or if it’s 60%, 70% or if it’s a moving target. I tend to believe its more like 95%. All that is good or bad in your life “is” because you are or were in it; you were involved. You were participating. You showed up.
From childhood to adult hood the most seminal moment in my life came at age eleven, January 5, 1976. While returning home from my paper-route I unwisely attempted to cross a busy four lane street through heavy late afternoon traffic. I failed. A blue Cadillac whose driver never imagined a paper boy on bicycle suddenly appearing before his windshield smashed into me at full speed, some 35 miles per hour. The driver never having touched his brakes.
The event is fresh in my mind because I just relived it last Monday night. Since that cold and rainy night on NE 8th Street at Crossroads in Bellevue, Washington 33 years ago the event has invaded my mind every few years. And by invading my mind I don’t mean to say I think about or remember it. I mean to say I relive it and experience flying through the air. I feel my forehead smashing against the curb as my upside down body descends to the concrete sidewalk. My body feels the unsteady dizziness that pulled me back to the concrete after standing up once I landed. It’s not remembering. I’m there again. It’s as real as this computer on my lap.
I’m sure the meeting of my brother and his Mom this past weekend triggered this episode. His Mom was a big part of mine and my Dad‘s life in the year preceding the accident. They had split up by the time of the accident. But her surprise visit to me after my return home from the hospital was very important to me then and remains so today.
In experiencing the crash again, I see my Dad. He was there. He showed up. While lying on the sidewalk I was immediately surrounded by strangers. Someone had a blanket and covered me up. And I asked someone else to call my Dad to tell him “I would be late getting home”. In the intervening time before seeing my Dad an ambulance arrived. Paramedics examined me and cut up my brand new Swabbies (pants) I’d received for Christmas, not two weeks earlier. Though I was still a month from my twelfth birthday I didn’t cry. No tears came as I calmly thanked those who helped me, and apologized for causing everyone so much trouble. I remained perfectly lucid and emotionless as I explained to the medical technicians where my hurts and aches were that they couldn’t readily see. But when they took scissors to my first ever non-hand-me-down pants I began to weep.
The paramedic stopped cutting. “Am I hurting you?” he asked. “No”, I said, “But you’re ruining my new pants”. “You’ll get some new ones. It’ll be OK.” He didn’t know. He didn’t know they were my only ever new pants. And he didn’t know they wouldn’t be replaced. They would be sewn.
I was put on the gurney and loaded into the ambulance. Before the doors could close I heard a familiar voice. I heard my Dad. He had come. He poked his head in the ambulance door ever so briefly, saw that I was alive, said something reassuring. And then said, “I’ll see you at the hospital”.
I felt so much better. I feared that he would be mad. My Dad never handled unexpected bad news well. His typical response was to grimace and soon yell at whoever or whatever was his provocateur. In the case of my car-bike accident he may have lambasted the stranger who called him. He may have cursed every slow driver that impeded his two-mile drive from home to the scene of the crash. He may have shoved those who had curiously gathered around the ambulance as he pushed into the vehicles doorway. But he and I never talked of such things. He never made me feel bad for the accident that reconfigured my bones, and my hand specifically. All he did was make me feel better by being there.
There is no need to romanticize my father. He was flawed in so many ways. But he never missed one of my sporting competitions, or school events. He was at my wedding though he said he wouldn’t be because he didn’t believe in interracial marriage. Repeatedly time and again, he showed up. And every time he did I was glad.
And in the eight years since his death not an event or holiday has passed where I didn’t wish for his presence. This includes last weekend when I MET his other son. A son who’s life he never acknowledged or participated in. His loss.
His failure as a father to my brother and his temper and his lack of ambition, selfish nature, and lack of personal fortitude are all forgiven. They are all forgiven, because he showed up. He was there for me when my body was broken and when so many other fathers never would have been home to receive the phone call to begin with.
Perhaps you too can forgive your father his failings. If he was there he has already exceeded that which 25% of all American fathers deprive their biological offspring.
I pray my children benefit from what I impart. But I know they gain from my presence. I know tucking them in, cheering them on, and disciplining their transgressions can only help them provide their children that which those future grandkids of mine need most from their Dad and their Mom. Their presence.
Ninety-percent of life is just showing up, that may be true. But when it comes to being a father, or a Dad, it might just be the whole ball game.
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