On Father's Day... some thoughts about a father I barely knew. And disliked what I did know about him.
Yet it has belatedly dawned on me that my not-so-good dad deserves a lot of thanks -- because without him I'd only be half of what I am.
And who is to say which half of me is better than the rest? I'm one big heap of Brian, no dividing possible.
I've told my story of my barely there relationship with my father. The title of that post, "One hour with my father," sums it up.
In my entire life, I spent one hour with my father. But even that was too long. Like I said at the end of the post:
When the door shut behind me and I started walking down the corridor to my rented car, I was so happy. Not happy that I had finally gotten to meet my father—happy that I would never have to see my father again.
Which I never did.
That hour has shrunk over the thirty years or so since I met my father for that one and only time.
Now I can remember only a few seconds of that hour.
Knocking on the hotel room door. Seeing him standing there, my also never-met half brother standing behind him. Shaking his hand. Sitting down on the edge of a bed to thumb through the General Electric manuals he wanted me to see, evidence of his work life. Shaking his hand at the end of the hour. Hearing the hotel door shut. Feeling so fucking relieved that the hour was over.
So my entire face-to-face conscious connection with my father consists of, oh, about 30 seconds of memories. Not much. Yet half a minute more than lots of people have who never saw their father at all.
Which included my father. His mother died giving birth to him. His father immediately took off. They were German-speaking immigrants from Poland. Welcome to America, Baby John HInes! (He was adopted by the Hines family.)
I haven't had many positive thoughts about my father, for good reason.
But this years pre-Father's Day goings-on stimulated some fresh insights into my relationship with him. Which, I'm now aware, is a lot more intimate than I used to think. After all, half of my genetic makeup came from my father.
Difference is, I can look at my phenotypic behavior/characteristics and easily connect who I am today with memories of my mother. For example, I write notes in the back of books almost exactly like my mother did.
I didn't start doing this consciously, to imitate her. Only after many years of note-making did I realize, "Holy crap! I'm acting just like my mother." That creeped me out. Worse, it made me realize that there must be many other ways I'm a lot like my mother, yet am unaware of.
From my mother, considerably older half-sister, and those few moments with my father I have some understanding of what kind of a guy my father was. In short, an asshole. Not 100%. Who is? But by and large, he was an egotistical, self-centered, macho, controlling jerk.
Knowing this, for a long time I worried that this genetic 50% of me would come out one day more strongly than it already has. Like an alien monster growing in my psyche, I'd wake up and find that I'd turned into my father.
Now, though, I realize that I am my father. Like I am my mother. Like I am every one of my ancestors, extending all the way back to the primal single-celled bacteria every living thing on Earth is related to.
I can't recognize very well my father in me, but he is there.
And I'm deeply grateful for that. I wish I could have told him that during the one hour I spent with him. I wish I could have told him lots of things during that never-again time that neither he nor I treated anywhere near as preciously as we should have.
My father was an asshole. However, he was an asshole who got things done. By all accounts he was brilliant, talented, energetic.
For example, he proudly told me how, as an efficiency engineer, he'd go into General Electric manufacturing plants and "kick ass" until the staff there improved the way they did things. Well, I've had a similar procliviity for activism. I see something that seems wrong, and my inner reformer goes into overdrive.
My mother didn't have that same energy. She was highly political, but not highly politically involved. So I've got to give my father genetic credit for qualities that I value in myself. Like him, I can be an asshole.
But I've come to feel that my asshole-ness flows from much the same source my father's did. I never knew my father from my outside. I'm learning to know him from the inside, though, from characteristics of mine that must come from him.
So thank you, dad. I never got to say those words to you while you were alive. I also never said "I love you." Until now, I never thought those would been honest words.
However, like you I'm so damn egotistical I love myself a lot, so since you're half of me, ergo...
I love you.