Father’s Day. It’s always been an emotionally challenging day for me.
I taught myself how to read at three because I noticed a pastel birth plaque hanging on my bedroom wall had a name on it that didn’t match the pattern of my mum’s or “Daddy’s.” Letter by letter, with the help of my naïve mum who had no idea of the antics I was privy to, I learned to sound them out and write them in crayon. My birth father’s name started with a C, not an F.
I launched an intense investigation: Who was this man? Where did he go? What did I do to make it so?
The other kids in school made Father’s Day art projects just before letting out for summer. Bastards. I would quietly sit and fuss with the construction paper, crayons, or clay (one project was to make ashtrays for dad. This activity ceased once people began to realize dads were quickly succumbing to lung cancer due to our brightly painted clay works).
If anyone dared to ask me about my dad, I’d just say with a major attitude, “I don’t have one,” and they’d reply with, “Everyone has to have a dad,” then walk away puzzled, confirming with one another that yes, I must surely be from another planet.
Thank God summer was just around the corner. I’d have 3 months to forget about the “dad” project, and an entire school year until the next June, when we'd do it again.
Being that I was born a literal thinker (meaning if someone said “hit the road,” you could guess where I’d immediately be headed), it took me years before I realized I could actually honor another for being a good dad. My grandpa, or Papa, as I’ve always referred to him, was the perfect candidate.
I spent hours with him propped up next to a car engine, watching him change the oil and spark plugs. I followed him with my own miniature lawn mower when he spent Saturday mornings manicuring his front lawn. I carried the paint bucket behind him when he painted the house every few years. I ‘helped’ him with his crossword puzzles. He handed me the funnies while he read the Sunday paper and we’d sit out in our lawn chairs, admiring the incredible job we’d done on the yard, taking in the smell of the fresh cut grass, and peacefully catching up on important news and less important comic strips.
He’s still with us, thank God, likely because I never made him an ashtray in the third grade.