It’s Father’s Day today. Even in lockdown, a lot of families are doing their best to celebrate, even if it’s just breakfast in bed.
There’s no father’s day here, nor any commemoration of any type. I won’t call my dad, I haven’t sent him a card. We reconciled – if that’s the word – a little over 12 months ago. We caught up a few times for lunch in the city when I was still going into the office. I think we’ve exchanged SMS twice in the months since.
Though he’s my father, I don’t really think of him as my dad, and that’s because we’ve never really had that relationship. When I cast my mind back, the only real sense of sharing that traditional father-son relationship was when we would go to the footy together.
In fairness, we did that for many years. Every Saturday we’d pack up and head out to Waverley or the MCG or – most often – Windy Hill, and other venues now and then. I remember that quite well, and particularly the drive home afterwards listening to the footy review on the car radio.
I felt like I shared something with him then, but at no other time. More often as I grew up I was aware of a distance between us. Much later I discovered that he felt I was a rival to him when it came to mum. Eventually he came to blame me for their separation and divorce. I hadn’t the sophistication to understand that when I was a kid, but I was very aware that we weren’t friends, and there was no warmth between us.
No-one could describe my dad as a warm man. That wasn’t his thing. He was smart and fierce and determined and ambitious. He had his moments, but rarely could you say he was an easy personality. There was no whimsy in him or silliness, none of the things that lighten life up. He has no real patience for that kind of stuff, though occasionally he’ll be caught unawares and break into laughter.
There was a time I felt quite bitter at what I’d been deprived of. I’d look upon happy families and the affection shared between fathers and sons and feel a pang. Many of my friends are fathers and I observe the love and devotion they show to their children and it’s heartwarming, but poignant for me knowing I had experienced none of that. I knew no better when I was a boy, but as a grown man it seemed dreadfully sad that I’d missed out. Sometimes I would wonder what impact it had on my development as a man.
In more recent years, I’ve let the bitterness go. What happened – or didn’t happen – was unfortunate, but none of us could go back and change it. Sometimes I hoped that my father would come out and acknowledge his failures as a father, but that kind of self-knowledge is beyond him. Nor is he one to readily admit fault.
I don’t feel any particular acrimony towards him and would welcome a more intimate connection, even at this late stage. I don’t believe in it though because I don’t believe he has the humility to be that man. I haven’t contacted him for the occasion because it would feel hypocritical of me, and because I’ve given much more than he ever has.
Ultimately, that’s a big part of the issue. For years, before I knew anything of what he really felt, I made every effort to be closer to him. I believed in him as a concept, and even admired certain aspects of him – his smarts and a basic integrity. He never really reciprocated and, I think, pretty well accepted it as his due. I was a far better son to him than my sister was a daughter, but while she was showered with praise and affection, I got neither. Never have. To this day, I can’t recall an easy word.
These last few months have confirmed a general belief. When we got together again last year I was glad to put things behind us. It’s easier to let things go than to hold onto them. We got on reasonably well, but on a certain level we always did. Father and son never worked for us, and we were never friendly, but we could meet at a cerebral, intellectual level. And it appeared that he was less inclined to judge – nothing I did was ever good enough before. But having re-established contact, it’s been left to me to maintain it. He won’t pick up the phone, he won’t send a message, and I think that’s consistent with a general lack of humility that has ever been the case. It’s my job to make the effort, and I’m not buying that anymore.
Today doesn’t make me sad, but I wish things had been different.