My grandfather, who had left my grandmother many years before, killed himself when I was three months old. I never met him, though I’m told he heard my babbling over the phone. My father killed himself when I was five and a half. I have two friends I’ve known long enough that they remember my father, at least a bit. One has never met her father, as her mother left him before she was born. The other has a father who barely acknowledges her and who was never married to her mother, though he has been married to a number of other people over the years.
I’ve never been too keen on Father’s Day as a result. I pass it off as part of my eternal hatred of holidays perpetuated by the greeting card industry, but in point of fact, I have perhaps understandably mixed feelings about the whole notion of fatherhood, and precious little experience with it myself.
When I was in fourth grade, there was a girl in our school whose mother was dying of cancer. We all made cards for her, at the instruction of our teachers, and everyone was terribly solicitous toward her. It was terrible for her — I knew that even then — but at the time my primary emotion was envy. She had a parent dying and people knew about it and understood it. Her mother was dying for a reason. I thought nobody knew how my father died, and I didn’t want anyone to find out. I was convinced it would simply brand me as crazy.
In years since, of course, I’ve come to know many good fathers — fathers of friends, and, now that I am older, friends who are fathers. They are to a man good men and good fathers, and I’m honored to have their friendship.
And I was lucky in many ways: I did not have my father for long, but for the five and a half years he was here, I had the best father a little girl could ever have wanted. He was never the dependable parent — he was famous for running out of gas, or for getting on the wrong bus, or for forgetting crucial things like my breakfast — but he was good and true in many other ways, and he loved me and he loved my friends, and he did some of the things their fathers were not there to do, giving them rides home and taking us to story time at the public library, and buying us rainbow sherbet afterwards.
But on this Father’s Day I’d like to take a moment to remember absent fathers, difficult fathers, even bad fathers. We carry their genes with us, even if we don’t know how or what they mean. I’ve been told I wash my hands the way my father did, for instance, and I know that I got his hair, and his temper. Who knows what other bits of him are lodged within me, or what bits of the fathers they never knew are lodged within my friends?
Those of us without fathers still, somewhere, had a father, and I believe we still honor that, or that we have to find some way to, because you can’t, as Malcolm X once said, hate the root of the thing and not hate the thing itself. I can’t, of course, actually speak for anyone else here, but I cannot hate my father. He was difficult at the best of times, and of course he left me in the most final way possible. But I cannot, and do not, hate him.
And so today I remember John M. Crossett Jr., professor, printer, doubles tennis player, drinker, pipe smoker, tyrant, and, most importantly, father. Much love to you, Daddy, wherever you are.