As I sipped at my first cup of coffee this morning and scrolled through Facebook reading all the wonderful Father's Day memories and tributes and memories, I was struck by the fact that my own connection to a patriarchal figure was tenuous at best. I am the result of a one night stand between my biological father and mother who were divorced at the time. Times being what they were in the 1950's, a hurried shotgun wedding was undertaken to legitimize my legal status and satisfy both my mother's father and the Roman Catholic Church. An equally rapid divorce followed, and I was shipped off to be raised by my mother's parents for the next 18 years.
Both of my parents remarried. After my father was discharged from the Army, he married a wonderful older Creole woman of color and was immediately shunned by my mother's side of the family for good. My mother, or the other hand, continued to make marriage into a past time, marrying two more times (for a total of five marriages, with numerous hook-ups in between). To be brutal about it, some people just aren't cut out to be parents.
My father visited me at Christmas and on the birthday we share up until the time I was thirteen. He had been a cook in the Army ( like my maternal grandfather), specifically a baker. After the military, he went to work in an upscale boutique dessert shop making cakes and candies; he smelled of chocolate when he stopped by to leave the child support check with my grandparents. On our too few visits together he taught me to decorate cakes and hand-dip chocolates. ( The result is that today, I make wicked-good butter creams from scratch.) The last time I saw him was when I was in the hospital after having my tonsils removed. My last memory of him was as a shadowy figure with a nimbus of light around him as he stood in the doorway to my room. I was still too drugged-up from the surgery to remember anything other than he said he loved me. After that night, I never saw him again.
My mother's parents raised me in a modest home. Pop was the local fire chief; Mom was a homemaker whose hobbies included crochet and alcohol. Unlike friends my age, there are virtually no childhood photographs of me after the age of five. I suspect it's because I have my father's features: my step-brother and I look exactly like him. More to the point, I do not look like anyone on my mother's side of the family which have very obviously Sicilian. Most of my formative years were spent staying out of the way or hiding from my grandparents to avoid being in the line of fire during one of their epic arguments; saying their relationship was volatile would be a kindness and an understatement. On those rare occasions when Pop took an interest in me-usually during one of Mom's lengthy drinking binges, I would accompany him on one of his side jobs doing general contracting, or we'd spend time in the kitchen. Pop had been a cook in the Army, and it was something he was particularly good at because he'd received an excellent education at the Cooks and Bakers School at Fort Dix. He taught both Mom and I to cook. Our time in the kitchen is my most positive snap shot memory of him, and all the other miserable crap from my childhood falls away when I think of it.
After both my father and grandfather died, two wonderful men were introduced into my life and became my Dads of Choice. Forest and George were both accomplished in their chosen professions, and well respected in the community. They were the fathers of grown biological children when they came into my life, and quite frankly, they redeemed all other males in my eyes. To qualify that statement, I am keenly aware of their faults, but some how that just made them that much more genuine.
I can add my friend John Denver to those who have been influential and gave me insight to the complexity of what it is to be a man. A side from his long, illustrious career as a renowned entertainer, he was the best example I can think of in how to turn fame into stewardship. He was just as much a humanitarian as anything else and he cared-he suffered-for the world. His greatest joy, however, was being a father. Being a father is what drove his desire to preserve the natural resources of our planet, it was behind nearly every charitable endeavor he involved himself in: ending hunger, worldwide environmental causes, serving the disenfranchised, space exploration. His fame became a stepping stone into all of these areas, and he participated not for himself, but for generations to come.
We honor our fathers- whether of blood or choice- on this day which is set aside to give thanks for their support and nurture. I believe it's a day out of time when we should sit back and think about all the things that make a man a Father, and exactly what parenting is.