A Father's Love
“What does it mean to love your father?” the therapist asked.
I had no idea. I wondered if it might be better to hate him.
My uncles tell me that my parents had an old-fashioned sort of love. Childhood sweethearts, my mother and father were equally quiet, shy, and sensitive, and were only truly at ease when they were together. So you can imagine the heartache, fear, and pain felt when my father’s parents separated the young couple, moving the family from the housing projects of Newark back to the green hills of Puerto Rico.
My uncles tell me that this is when my father really started drinking. Seventeen years old and pulled from his love, he desperately wanted to escape. Puerto Rico was no longer his home, and more: A baby was on the way. What would he do?
They say he would have walked from that little house on the hill in Aguada, through the sugar cane fields, and into the ocean, to swim the 1500 miles to be with my mom. I wish I knew him then. Instead, I grew up afraid of the man who’d stumble home, startling me from sleep with his heaves and cries as he left his stomach in the toilet; the man who punched holes in our walls and left my mother on the floor, crying; the man who was seen with another woman at Golda’s Bar on Fleming Avenue.
“What would it mean to hate your father?” the therapist asked.
I had no idea. I only knew it was easier than love. Today, I think hating him would mean hating a part of myself, so I’ve stopped. I want to find the part of my father that I can love. He didn’t mean to be a bad father; he just made mistakes. For too long, I considered myself one of them. It’s pretty simple: Children need to love their parents in order to better love themselves.
A recent piece in the New York Times, “Affirmation of a Father’s Love, Etched in Vinyl,” by Connie May Fowler, daughter of country-western singer Henry May, got me thinking about this stuff. You should read it. I've been sending it around to friends, and I think I'll send it to my father, too.