Today marks the 21st anniversary of the very first Fathers' Day celebrated by my Dear Old Person. One of our dear sons was born in the fall of 1989, and the other in the summer of 1991. Neither I nor my Dear Old Person had much of an idea of how to manage either event, both of us having more or less lost our parents through various mysteries and accidents of familial history. Some of these reached, apparently, into the very antecedents of Scandinvian geneaology; the Danish history when peeled away was particularly lurid. In my own past were the shadows of Appalachia and a long exile, useless for the charting of a map into the future. Nevertheless, we joined hands and stepped off into the void, somehow managing to bring two amazing young men along with us as we sidestepped or waded right through joys and troubles, just as most people do every day.
Joys came. Small boys creating language together, racing each other for ridiculous accomplishments, gradually emerging like sculptures with marble dust blown away in painstaking gusts to reveal completely different personalities. Large boys, making music and sports and smells, eating like Biblical plagues, teaching us, lighting the corners in ways we'd never have expected. Through these years my Dear Old Person worked quietly but constantly to make more money, to be something more than his father had been, to make his sons proud, to give them something other than what he recalled. What he recalled, in fact, he said little of, much of it seeming too strange or frightening to bring into the present. He spent as many minutes as possible with the fists of small boys pulling on his beard, with the voices of small boys crowing at him as he fixed broken tricycles or set up antique electric trains under the tree at Christmastime.
Troubles came. Some were small and uneven, those day-by-day things every family finds its way through. The loss of his father, inch by painful inch, to Alzheimers and anger, was large and deadly, causing fractures and fault lines along which the whole family broke like waves over rocks; the aftershocks of which remain with us these 10 years later. Through all these troubles, there were these amazing boys. And there was this amazing father, who persevered through all adversity, strong and stubborn and sometimes frightening. From the Wisconsin links to the old country, I often heard the voice of Aunt Thelma: "You can always tell a Dane, but you can't tell him much." Today we work our way around a progessive neuropathy that means we dance constantly around the physicality of day-to-day living. This walking is all done without a map, for there are no directions given with such diagnoses.
But it's not all that different from kids, really. We've had to dive into who we are, where we came from, what defined us. We've had to face things square on, or decide not to face them. We've gotten up in the morning and put on our clothes and started the days. We've laughed our heads off with our treasured friends, and cried our heads off with them. Or we've exchanged glances or hugs that transcended words, and been grateful for such blessings. Always there's a sense of the grace given to those who are long-bound, long-handfast wives, husbands, partners. We make promises of love for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health. There is no map for delivery on those promises. And yet...and yet: it is possible to find your way, walking together, making best guesses, trusting each other, without a map.
So: join me today in the celebration of Fathers' Day, recalling those who have done their best and gone on, and those who still do their best every day. Happy Fathers' Day. Blessings to us all.