When Father's Day comes around I don't spend much time reminiscing about memories of my father, since I only spent one hour of face-to-face time with him in my entire life.
(These are the only photos I have of my father. Obviously I don't remember these baby moments with him.)
I wrote about this disturbing experience in an appropriately-titled blog post, "One hour with my father."
Here’s a contrarian Mother’s Day story about the one hour I spent with my father. Note: the one hour, period. This wasn’t the best or worst hour, nor the happiest or saddest hour. It was the only hour I spent face-to-face with him.
My half-brother, Mike, opened the door. Apparently my father needed some support during this visit. John walked up to me and shook my hand. We didn’t hug or anything. No tears of joy. Nothing that you see in the movies. Real life isn’t like the movies.
What is real life like? Real life is having one hour in your life face-to-face with your father, and spending that time looking at General Electric manuals that he had arranged on the bed prior to my arrival, efficiently opened up to pages that he wanted to impress me with.
I sat down on the edge of the bed. I dutifully thumbed my way through manual after manual, listening to my father’s stories about how he went into GE plants that were having problems and got them back up to speed. “What the hell?” I kept thinking to myself. “If this is how my father wants to spend his time with his long-ignored son, so be it.”
We got through all of the manuals. I shook his hand again. 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.
Now, with the passage of time, several decades, actually, I've wondered if I should have made more of that one hour with my father.
What bothers me, as I thought about that hour today, is that I can only remember a few minutes of it with any clarity. Basically, just the first few minutes before he started to show me the General Electric manuals, and the minute or so when we shook hands, said goodbye, and I walked out of his hotel room door.
I'm pretty sure that I would have remembered if we'd talked about anything genuinely personal, or if I'd asked him any of the questions that still rummage through my mind, unanswered forever now that he is dead.
Why, according to my mother, did you refuse to accompany her to a drier climate when this was supposedly the best thing to do for my half-sister Evie, who was born with a heart defect and died when I was about four years old after my mother had moved to Texas? (And divorced my father.)
Why did you never have anything to do with me until my mid-30's, when you called out of the blue after you knew you were dying, and initiated a telephone relationship that mostly consisted of you telling stories about what an amazing genius guy you were, revealing next to nothing about yourself other than your professional exploits as an early computer expert and, later, as a kick-ass efficiency guy with General Electric?
Both of these questions have an accusatory tone about them. I'm expecting that my father, who by all accounts was a mysogynist jerk, somehow would have been willing to be openly self-revealing about sensitive issues in his life.
This realization came to me after I had coffee this afternoon, as I do most Sundays, with an old friend, Jim.
I shared with Jim my regrets about the one hour I spent with my father, saying that now I wished I'd interrupted his General Electric manual-sharing with a statement like, "Look, we've only got a short time together. I wish we could talk about something personal."
Jim offered up some wisdom. "Almost certainly it wouldn't have made any difference if you'd said that. People such as your father don't change instantly. Likely he would have ignored your request to talk about personal stuff."
Jim was right.
I now regret having regrets about the one hour I spent with my father. Life turns out the way it does for good reasons. Naturally we all have fantasies about how our life would have been different, meaning, better, if only we'd done such and such instead of what we actually did
Those thoughts are natural. But they aren't realistic.
I wish I'd had a better relationship with my father, and that our one hour together had gone differently than it did. However, Jim helped me recognize that almost certainly the time I spent in his hotel room wouldn't have been a Hallmark Moment no matter what I said or did.
Regrets sometimes are justified. In this case, I've come to see that they aren't.