Everybody knows by the time one is grown and experienced in life that no matter how one masks it, there is at odd times a subterranean gut emptiness somewhere at the bottom of the psyche, an utter feeling of being alone. A poet might call it a walk down a mountain path to a dark ocean, or being lost in a dark wood, a narrow road stretching towards an unknown horizon that beckons. A psychologist might call it something to learn to accept; a philosopher the existential reality of being human. Whatever we call it, we all recognize it eventually, a relentless twin existence. This alone-ness.
To the millions of us who never knew a father of our own, the yearly event, the forced holiday that promotes shopping for merchandise pulls back the curtain, and here we are with that feeling of unalterable gut loneliness, and since it always falls, literally, on a Sunday, today I am not going to church where the sermon will most likely center on the glories and rewards of being a father, of having a father, of reciprocal love. I have never been included in that circle since my parents were divorced when I was two years old and I never saw my father after that.
To distance myself from the sentimentality or the warmth of today that so many others enjoy, the value of a new necktie or toolbox, the last minute sale-hawkers blaring from the TV, I can meditate on fatherhood in every sense of the word or simply ignore it and hope the day goes by quickly. Whatever those of us without fathers do, this day remains the most blaring reminder that thousands of us are deprived. And this missing component of family is, “they say,” most terrible for a girl, someone who has not been able to call herself a “daughter.” It most often leads to all kinds of psychological emptiness filled with promiscuity, or at least unbearable weight gain as unfathered girls learn to fill the missing piece of the atomic family with something more solid than beautiful yet ephemeral “faith, hope and love.” How many girls destroy themselves with searching? If everything fathers forth, what propels to fulfillment those of us who never had a father?
Thoughts about fatherhood are often at first chaotic to those who dare to confront the idea of “the father” when there has been none. First comes to mind the ultimate big daddy, most eloquently named in the exquisite phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins, “He fathers forth….”* Of course there is God, “Our Father…” and how does this compare to those earthly fathers who cannot be true to their families and the multitude who father children outside of wedlock, or the husband named Legion who walks away with another partner without looking back.
Eventually, if and when we get off of the pity-pot we can acknowledge the positive: the good father making his children’s lives worth living by working long and hard to build something more than a dollhouse or a bike. The man who would quickly give his life to protect his children.The very meaning of fatherhood, the man who serves and protects on all fronts not only with love, but a sense of duty. What a glorious and beautiful concept! And there are multitudes of these beautiful men.But not in everyone’s current family.Not today.
“They say” that you cannot miss what you never had, but like so many soothing ointments, the sting comes back when the salve wears off. And a national Father’s Day is a cruel reminder for some of us if we sense that hooded figure pointing to the darkness, being totally alone in essence, in reality, naked. regardless of “kin” and “pals” and even a throng chanting hymns and prayers. Without a father, one is psychologically, philosophically, existentially, absolutely naked. Raw. Lacking. Longing. Alone.
So today, I am not going to church. I am going to stay put and contemplate the beauty of my surroundings, nature, weather, art and poetry. I am going to entertain gratitude, and count my many blessings despite the fact that I never knew my father. I may even say a prayer of thanksgiving for surviving despite a handicap, the physical presence called “father.” I am not going to feel jealous or sad when I see fathers and sons and daughters hugging and enjoying the day together. Instead I am going to rejoice when I see a man being fatherly to his child, and I will silently thank him for keeping at least one person from feeling the loneliness a multitude of us must confront again when forced to endure this national day of celebration! (You may want to Google all the great people in history and today in all walks of life who never had fathers and be very surprised as well as encouraged and consoled!)
So: Here’s to those fathers everywhere who love their families truly without pretense or duplicity. And here’s to the millions of us who never had the comfort and love of a real father, but somehow managed to not only survive, but to be true to ourselves and accomplish much anyway, and here’s to the army of single mothers who have the strength of two people! A Toast! A heart balloon!
Father or not, we all know the difference between moments of grinding loneliness and the enjoyment of being alone which can be nurturing, nourishing, creative, and comforting! I choose to be alone today, a privilege really and a delight. (Already a pair of stellar jays are knocking on my roof and enjoying the lofty branches of the cedar trees that fill my window as I write, and a pair of young juncos have a nest in my roof gutter raising a glorious ruckus.) Hopkins is so right, The Ultimate Creator, the Big Unknown Father of All must be praised! Today of all days, and every day– Enjoy your blessings and yourself!
“Pied Beauty” (1877)
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
a stellar jay