I didn’t grow up with a father, so Father’s Day came and went without notice. Once in a while I would tell my mother, “Happy Father’s day, mom,” with a sheepish grin on my face, because she was mother and father to me. The only time I missed having a father was when I wished that there was someone else in our home to put my mother in her place and tell her that her attitude towards me was incomprehensible and offensive. I just wanted a witness, another pair of eyes to catch and curtail her aloofness towards me.
When I was in High school, a boy in my class called me a “bastard,” and I reacted with great ferocity. I screamed in his face, took both my hands and pushed them against his chest, pushing him off his chair and on to the floor. I remember my limbs shaking and my hands trembling with the urgency to punch him in his face. No one in my small high school knew my story, not even my best friend. Within the first year of living with my adoptive mother, I had learned the very important lesson that the subject of my father, my birth mother, my four siblings, and any other person or experience that had existed prior to my eighth birthday was a forbidden topic. Once or twice I felt compelled to make her understand that my history was relevant, true, and needed to be voiced, but she called me a liar, and I kept my mouth shut.
I loved my father, even when he left his wife and five children, even when he told me that I was not his child, even when he returned to me years later, reclaiming me, armed with souvlaki and Coca-Cola bribes with which to prepare me for my new fate as an adopted child. I loved him until the night I wept for him, my first night as another woman’s child, in a different country. And I cried for him until my new mother told me that the man I wept for, the father I longed for, was the one that gave me up for adoption; he was there at the court proceedings, relinquishing me, forfeiting his rights to me. I was eight when I stopped loving my father, even though I feel love for him now as I write about him. Perhaps it is because, as is the case with my mothers, I am able to feel compassion for all of them since I now know what their lives encompassed.
He wasn’t just a father – he was a man – a soft, thin, frail and weakened man who was being abused by his wife. And the day he fled from our family, he was covered in bruises and blood.
Since my adoption and the revelation that he had signed me away to a foreign country and a stranger-mother, I tried not to think of my father. My memories of him and of the years I had lived with and without him retraced themselves back to me, but I learned to separate my feelings from my recollections. I was able to revisit my childhood and my parents without feeling a thing.
Growing up, I believed that not having a father didn’t affect me one way or another. But it wasn’t until I married Joe and he became a father to our children that I felt the full impact of my father’s role in my life.
I chose Joe for many reasons: he listened to the stories of my childhood; he showed me that I was courageous and valuable; he nurtured my dreams and talked me up; he stood up to my mother and showed me that I could live a life without her; he loved me – all of me – the good and the bad and the unutterably ugly. He made me feel beautiful and strong and respected, and I shone in his eyes as much as I grew in his presence. He was, and still is, my best friend, and I cannot imagine living my life without him by my side – it might be easier, since he is so hardheaded (and here he would argue that I am even more hardheaded, but that is another blog subject), but without him my life would be empty, inconceivable.
And as much as he was there for me, providing me with the unconditional love and emotional security I had not discovered in anyone else, including parental figures, subconsciously, I chose him because he was nothing like my father. This gives me a chill; it makes me wonder what other decisions I have made for myself without actively thinking about them.
Joe is nothing like my father. And this makes my choice remarkable. The father of my children would never flee from his family – he wouldn’t leave at gunpoint, at knife point, and he would most definitely not leave because his wife was bashing his head against a kitchen sink. His wife wouldn’t dare.
The father of my children is strong, virile, complex, and powerful as a man, as a husband, but as a father, he is gentle, soothing, funny, and incomparable. He is a present father – a witness to his children’s experiences and milestones, a kisser of harmless booboos and broken elbows, and a guide towards achievement and success. He is the tallest mountain in our household that protects us from the wind storms of life’s precarious journey; he is the river that propels us forward, through our fears and defenses, past the blockades of our dreams; and he is loyalty personified, grounding us to him with the force of his unconditional love for his family – his wife and children.
Joe would never watch with futility and powerlessness as his wife abused their children, leaving them unwashed and unloved, or lie down beside a wife that rejected his affections for the lust of others. He would never move in with his sister while his children were cast into orphanages, left to beg in the streets, or be exposed to the drudgery of prostitution. Joe would never deny the love and the name of his children, or forsake them to orphanages, homelessness, foreign countries and adoptions.
He would die first; he would break laws and kill men to protect his children, and that kind of loyalty, that kind of love, is what I never grew up with, but the only kind of love I would choose for my children. They deserve more than I had as a child.
Some people have told me that I didn’t know what Joe would be like as a father, but this is not true. I knew – I watched him, and I knew, without consciously watching or knowing. I babysat nieces and nephews with him, and while I sat on the couch watching TV, my feet curled beneath me, I observed the way he fathered them. He played games with them, fed them, disciplined them, changed diapers, and read to them. And when I gave birth to our children, he taught me to change their diapers, he took off from work to help me organize feeding and diapering schedules, and put 100% of himself into his role as a father, never expecting me to shoulder all the parental duties. Fatherhood is not a job, a responsibility, or a hassle for him. It’s a gift, a second chance to be the father to his children that he didn’t quite have, and he relishes every moment.
I love watching Joe be a father to our children more than anything. You’ll usually find me sitting on the sidelines, on the sand at the beach, at the edge of the pool, my feet rocking the cool water, on a bench at a party, watching him with our children. Armed with my camera, I take shot after shot of the way his eyes caress their faces, and the way their eyes light up with gleeful pride, their laughter ringing with innocence and joy, swallowing in huge gulps the love they discover in his eyes when he looks upon them and knowing that this love is reserved only for them. I click away, capturing still-smiles, my children’s smiles, Joe’s smile – a smile that shows his teeth and is as big and generous as his heart, beating loudly against his chest, filling him from the inside with inarticulate expressions of paternal wonderment.
Loving them fulfills him, and watching him love them fulfills me.
Happy Father’s Day, Joe.
Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.