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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Strange Days

It is ... Juneteenth.. and Fathers Day. It's that time the year for all Americans when you feel guilty for however you treated your father, while your children continue to ignore this special day, making everything even.

I guess for Texas Blacks, they get to celebrate their freedom after the Civil War, which is probably the last time that fathers in the Black culture had a shot at being the paterfamilias before they too got overwhelmed by social change. Since most fathers today are also ex-husbands, or caught up in the throes of marital strife, Fathers Day is not such an honorific observance. It's just a day when we are routinely reminded what a mess we have made of the family institution. Ask any man, and he will agree; Fathers today do not enjoy even a fraction of the power, respect, or influence they had fifty years ago. Twenty years ago.

Today, with so many broken up families, fathers are the odd men out, the necessary sperm donors to countless ungrateful households dominated by women. They send checks to children they are often not welcomed to visit, or eat at Sunday dinners at solemn gatherings where they have been emasculated and diminished to something right above the family dog. Perhaps that is the next step, for men to just camp outside and bark at strollers by, giving them some kind of role that will not be usurped. I'm pretty sure that the family pets enjoy more relational security than most fathers.

So, what in the heck is Fathers Day for? When I was a kid, it was when my grandfather slipped my brother and me a five dollar bill and took us to Walgreens to find something for our father... so he would not be left out, since all other caring children were giving their fathers something wonderful... like an iridescent, metallic blue tie, or a silver cigarette lighter with a black knight's helmet on it. Mothers were so much easier to shop for, all you had to do was present them with a small box of Whitman's Sampler chocolates, which she invariably let you eat.

There were so many things you could not get for Dad, since he might use it on you later... You know, like heavy duty extension chords, or nice thick leather belts, or new ping pong paddles. Probably not a good idea to give him a baseball bat... or pruning shears... You never know. You did not want to give him anything sharp, he might use it to cut a switch, for a serious whipping for someone close to you. But I do seem to remember giving him a whetstone one year. He loved to sharpen his pocket knives.

So I'm 12 minutes into Fathers Day, and really having all kinds of strange and wonderful memories, of the man that I loved, and tried to be like, who scared me to freaking death many times, in his fatherly wrath... who would have died for me, who taught me how to shoot a gun, swallow my tears, and how to love God. How to treat women. How to have the courage of my convictions. How to raise my own child, as flawed as he was. How to forgive myself for all the mistakes I made, trying to be a father. When I was young, and he was trying to be my father, I thought he was doing a lousy job. Now that he is gone, I am glad, because he is not alive to see that I did no better.

He was my hero. He inevitably fell from grace, and yet, somehow the boy in me never completely let go of that bigger than life man who was, in many ways, truly the greatest man I ever knew. He never got a letter like this, saying so, either.

So, have a Happy Fathers Day. And don't waste it for so many years until all you have is what I have... a lifetime of regrets on Fathers Day.

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