Father's Day has never been a big deal in my family. My parents separated when I was four and I lived with my mother. I'm sure there are plenty of kids of divorced parents who celebrate the day, but after my parents split, my dad didn't take the time to call or write for seven years. My mother did a tolerable job of disguising this fact ( e.g. Christmas and birthday presents "From: Dad"), but she never went to the trouble of having us send him cards or gifts for Father's Day. Once I was old enough to reailze that my father was a deadbeat, I started giving my mother cards on Father's Day, sort of a little family joke.
My dad made several half-hearted attempts to renew a relationship with my brother and me, but his alcoholism and (I suspect) a gigantic fear of failure trod upon his every effort. There came a point, after several of these emotionally devastating failures that I just had to say, "This is enough!" After that point, my father and I had some rather stilted, albeit civil, conversations, but nothing significant. At sixteen, I pretty much cut my father out of my life because my little teenage heart couldn't take it anymore. He lived in my hometown and we would occasionally cross paths. Generally, he would see me first and head the other way. I was somewhat amused by this behavior, but it also made me sad. Of course, being me, I laughed it off and went my way.
My father, Arthur Michael, died in 2004, just a few days before Christmas. I didn't cry. The deaths of fictional characters have elicited more emotion from me. How are you supposed to react to the news of a stranger's death? Honestly, (and terribly) I felt a sense of relief. There wouldn't be anymore uncertainty or any possibility of confrontation or attempts at manipulation. Sometimes I feel a little guilty that I never tried to reconcile, but it's never been more than a little.
This brings me to Sunday. I was watching Mr. Holland's Opus (yes, I know it's sort of lame) Sunday night. When it got to the part where Mr. Holland designs a concert for his deaf son and sings John Lennon's Beautiful Boy, I started bawling. In the midst of my tears, I realized that I was mourning. No, I wasn't mourning my father's death, I was mourning our lost relationship. I was mourning the fact that I have never had a consistent, long-term, non-romantic relationship with any man. I was mourning the years my father missed with my brother and me because he couldn't remain faithful to his wife.
I distinctly remember one night, during my father's first attempt to reenter our lives. He was babysitting so that my mother could go somewhere. I was 10 or 11 and I had the flu. I fell asleep with my head in my dad's lap, so when my mom got home my father tried to move me without waking me up, but I'm too light of a sleeper for that. As he was leaving, he asked my mother if there was any chance they could try again. After seven years of non-communication, my mother's answer was, "It's too late." Maybe if it hadn't taken him seven years to ask that question, things would have turned out differently. Maybe I would have been reminiscing about happy memories and mourning my father's passing Sunday rather than wishing for a father like the ones in happy movies.