When Fathers Become Human
If you ask me when I first realized that my father was human and not superman it would probably be tied into when dad had a major heart attack and ended up on life support.
You tend not to forget a week spent sitting at the bedside of an unconscious man praying he wouldn’t die.
But kids of all ages don’t always recognize the moments when their parents are truly vulnerable. Sometimes it just goes over our heads or sometimes we misread a moment.
When my daughter asked Why Is Daddy Crying there were no real tears upon my face.
It took me years before I realized that I had seen my father on the verge of collapse and that it happened years before his heart attack. Don’t ask me why I was so thick headed or slow to recognize it. Truth is it probably doesn’t matter to anyone but me.
What We See
I often think about my dad’s little brother and feel badly that I didn’t get as much time to get to know him as I would have liked to.
He was my father’s only sibling and even though they had many similarities they were very different. Some of it was for obvious reasons.
My uncle was a gay man who didn’t have any children. He grew up in Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco in the early 70s. We visited him often and it wasn’t unusual for him to come down to see us in LA but no one ever talked about his sexuality.
I am not suggesting they should have any more then they should have talked about my father’s. It had no bearing on our love for my uncle.
But I mention it now because of the timing because when I was a kid we used words that are considered gay slurs now without any sense of whether they might hurt or offend someone.
That was a time when it was much harder for gay people to be open than it is now or at least I think it was. I haven’t discussed it with anyone who is gay who lived as an adult through then and now so all I can offer is my perspective and what I remember.
I remember being surprised when my little sister asked him if he was gay and how he laughed and said yes. I remember it making sense but being confused because I didn’t know how to feel.
Sometimes I look back on things I have written about that moment and try to figure out how accurate they are. Sometimes I think about what happened when we found out he was HIV positive and I try to remember exactly how I felt.
The words I wrote only catch part of those moments and I wonder if I left out something important, something critical, something significant that would help.
But I don’t know that I did or if I didn’t. I just know I tried my best to capture it in text and that it is part of how I realized I missed a moment for my father.
When Fathers Become Human
I sure as hell remember getting the call about my uncle dying. I remember telling my grandfather and how he began to cry.
Grandpa was tough as nails. He was a streetwise man who had been a salesman, a pool shark and more but he was a father who had lost a son and that was all it took to make the tears stream down his face.
My father was stoic in front of me. I didn’t think anything of it because it was how he had always been. The men in the family tend not to be big criers.
Mom and dad drove with my youngest sisters to San Francisco but I couldn’t take that much time off of work so I put a day in at the office and flew up.
Two days later my dad and I rented a truck and the family assembled at my uncle’s cottage and started to pack up his things.
That was when I missed the moment.
I can’t remember how long we had been working on putting things into boxes or loading them into the truck when my father pulled me aside and said he needed me to make sure the truck was loaded properly because he couldn’t do it.
He disappeared and I didn’t think twice about it.
I figured it was hard for him and kept myself busy loading things.
But when I think back now I remember how his voice cracked once and how he didn’t look me in the eyes.
Twenty years ago I missed the moment. I should have at least asked him if we was ok, offered to let him lean on me a bit. I don’t think he would have because twenty years ago he would have seen me as a kid.
I expect when my kids are 25 I’ll have a similar feeling.
We can’t go back in time so I can’t change any of that and I am confident my father wasn’t hurt or upset about it because he wouldn’t have held back from telling me so.
But I still wish I had said something but more than anything I wish my uncle was here now.
He was only 49. In many ways he lived a very full life but he missed so much and by not having him around so did we.