I used to stare at my father while he laid on the couch, wondering if he were ever going to spend some long awaited time with me—toss the ball or maybe teach me a useful knot. To this day I stink at knots and am particularly bitter about that neglect. I still loved him soulfully as I watched him lay there hurting, gathering strength, and longing to be whole. What wasn’t clear to me then—but have come to empathize with now—was that my father was broken. For all of his goodness he simply did not know how to let anyone in, except for those occasions when I fell asleep in his arms for an afternoon nap or while listening to a late night Dodger game on the radio. Those were the times we felt close.
My father was all that any man aspires to be. He was beautifully handsome, charismatic, loving, witty, intelligent and strong. But, his frailty was the thing that made him real and palatable to me as a small boy. In a memory sometimes crowded with wrongs done to me and my own feelings of failed opportunities, I’m thoughtfully reminded by my new found life and those lessons of my father that there is strength and hope in my own vulnerability. What is not polished is real. What is in the shadows is beautiful. What is broken is worthy.
I spent most of my adult life trying to hide those rough edges from my sons, trying to be “that” dad. I was lost in the feeling that the less they knew about my own demons, the more protected they were. It was more important for them to think highly of me than being able to connect with me—relate to me. In my own pride I robbed them of the very thing my father inadvertently gave to me so very freely, his frailty. His love and goodness though flawed was true and honest.
I’ve come to know that there’s not a time in my life when embracing my frailties and all the thoughts that linger in those deep recesses do not bring me closer to whole. In my father’s shadows, I learned the ability to love the imperfections in those around me—those closest to me—and in myself.