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.

john's picture

when you write 'from the heart', there is an authenticity, a 'realness' to your prose that makes it first rate. thanks for this piece about your father. now i want to read more.

michaelavorgna's picture

You are wise beyond my years. Cheers.

Trey's picture

Your father must have some redeeming features. I say this because you are 50% him and in my opinion you are not half bad!God bless you as you work to understand and accept this stuff. For me, it was my mom who was difficult to comprehend and integrate. Perhaps I should say "is" instead of was, but I believe I mostly have peace with her.A thoughtful life is a difficult pursuit.Trey

Nick's picture

Great article Stephen thanks for sharing. While not sharing the same circumstances I would also include Hans Fantel's great article about his Father. http://www.therestisnoise.com/2006/04/full_fathom_nin.html

rvance's picture

Great piece again, Stephen. I just lost my father last year. He was 87 years old. When I was a child he was distant and drank too much. In later years we would talk by phone every week- about the Dodgers or the Lakers or the price of gas. While we always stayed in touch, he had a more intimate life with his bar friends and pool league cronies. He'd see them every day. I would make a 700 mile drive to his place and within an hour he would ask when I was leaving. Not to be mean or dismissive- he just wanted to know how he needed to portion out his day to keep to his routine and fulfill his obligations to his friends. When he was dying I met these people and they were the salt...they would do anything for a friend and they truly loved my father. So I was given a gift of understanding and closure before he passed. And I recognize some of his personality quirks in myself. I miss him every day. Try to keep that connection alive with your dad, Stephen.

John Atkinson's picture

http://www.therestisnoise.com/2006/04/full_fathom_nin.html A great link, rvance. I knew the late Hans Fantel.

michaelavorgna's picture

That Hans Fantel article is wonderful. Here's a piece: "In the perennial rebirth of music through recordings, something of life itself steps over the normal limits of time."

Nick's picture

Actually John, it was Nick (me) that posted the link. I knew that some of the Stereophile staff knew him not sure who though, I first read that article a few years before his death. I have shared that article with many people and not one person has not found it moving. To this day I still get goosebumps when reading it. Everyone who visits this website should read it.

John Atkinson's picture

Apologies for the misattribution, Nick.

Nick's picture

No worries, BTW loved your As We See It: iPad Daze article, spot on. LET'S GO ENGLAND!!!