To Our Fathers and All Fathers

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Last year, as I have since moving to the U.S., I sent my father a Happy Father’s Day card. I also called him on Father’s Day to wish him a great day. Father’s Day, unlike Mother’s Day, is always on the same day in my native France and the US.

As always, the man I call Papa made jokes and spoke too fast.

Over the years, I learned to decode my father.

Jokes plus fast elocution equal emotion.

I hung up, a smile drawn on my face at the memory of his light tone and funny stories.

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A week later, on my marriage anniversary, an early phone call from my sister woke me up.

Papa got a stroke, she said, you should fly over as soon as you can.

Our father remained in a coma for a week before he died.

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This year, for the first time since I moved to the States, I didn’t mail a Happy Father’s Day card to France.

On Mother’s Day I wrote:

“It is said a daughter understands her mother when she becomes a mother herself. But it sometimes takes going far away to grasp the significance of rituals and customs mothers pass on.”

The same applies to fathers.

 

A young boy during Second World War, my father’s childhood was amputated, and yet he joked about that time of his life as he did about almost everything serious.

He taught me that laughing when we are sad isn’t such a bad idea.

He didn’t have the option of staying in school and started to work at the age of fourteen.

He taught me that intelligence has not much in common with academic knowledge.

He said he was a simple man.

He taught me to distinguish uncomplicated from unrefined.

 

Now that he’s gone, little things that he told me rush unexpectedly to my mind.

“Never leave a bike in the sun or the tires will get damaged.”

“Don’t water the garden when the sun is at its highest.”

“Fill up your gas tank before it’s empty.”

Annoying when I was a kid, these pieces of advice turned to be so valuable that I pass them on to my children.

 

My father drove trucks and buses for a living.

The road is a dangerous place to be for many men. My father could have followed some of his colleagues’ ways of life.

Yet he remained faithful to his wife, my mother.

A father’s behavior speaks volumes to his child.

 

Due to his job, my father was rarely home when I was growing up.

We caught up with three weeks of family camping every summer.

The four of us enjoyed taking long walks during our vacation. My father and I shared an almost identical stride, so we easily matched our paces.

I became aware of my father’s good looks over those summer walks. Once in a while, I would catch the appreciative glance of a woman on my dad’s slender physique and tanned face and a strange possessive feeling took over me.

Coincidentally (retrospectively, it was no coincidence), this is also when I started to attract boys. My father never said anything but his gorgeous blue eyes (still a little jealous that my sister got them) darkened as he glared back at any boy who ogled me with too much insistence.

You could argue that a father should teach his daughter to fend for herself. And you would have a point.

However I dare you to challenge me: haven’t you felt safe and loved when your father stopped with one single glare an insolent boy in his tracks?

Fortunately, my father couldn’t stop every boy to approach me.

Yet I want to think that the way he pushed back a boy he found disrespectful taught me to be selective. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t make any mistakes and that I only met great guys. But he showed me that I was to be respected.

 

My father was a man of few words but an extraordinary listener of silences.

He knew before anyone the first time a boy broke my heart, although I didn’t say a word about it.

He said he was sorry and that whoever hurt me wasn’t worthy of me. I didn’t comment and he never spoke about it again.

In the years that followed my first love, despite what I believed, I fell in love again, but I remembered of my father’s words and stayed away from hurtful relationships.

 

As for the Happy Father’s Day card, it remained, through the years, a dilemma.

My father disliked smooth talk. Du baratin, he would say in French, with a shrug. So my card had to be as restrained as possible.

My father didn’t speak English, so whenever I sent him a card with words or sentences in English I had to translate them.

Since I agree that too much sentimentality kills the sentiment, I agonized in the Hallmark section.

No way could I translate in French all those syrupy love poems to my father. Even though 6 000 miles and an ocean stood between us, his embarrassment would have reached me.

When I finally managed to find a card with the least possible baratin, I pondered my own words until I almost always wrote,

Joyeuse Fête des Pères, Papa. J’espère que tu passeras une belle journée. Je t’embrasse très fort.

Evelyne

Talk of creativity and emotion. Yet I trusted my father to read between and beyond my banal words.

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I spent hours with him before he passed away. Nobody knows for sure what a person in a coma hears and feels. Used to his silences and reserved attitude, I wasn’t uncomfortable near him. For the first time, I didn’t torture myself about what to tell him like I had agonized over a Happy Father’s Day card in the Hallmark section.

Why did I have to wait so long to tell him so much?

Why did he have to be totally silent and irresponsive for me to open up?

What I’m trying to write is that many fathers demonstrate their love sometimes awkwardly. In response, their children can be confused.

Sometimes, only a life lived long enough is necessary to see love through annoying pieces of advice, a dark glare, or unadorned words of support.

What I’m trying to write is that we shouldn’t wait to tell our fathers how much they count for us. As imperfect and clumsy as they can be, most are there for their children.

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Of course, I really understood the invaluable place a father has in a child’s life when I witnessed my husband become one. Through his unconditional love for our children, his unwavering emotional and financial support, and his purposeful guidance, but also through his goofiness, his dark sense of humor, and his countless silly jokes that many men use so well to deal with children, he helped me to understand that men and women are equally able to care for children.

When my children were little I helped them make their own cards for Father’s Day. As they grew up, they stopped drawing pictures and bought cards. They browsed and pondered and reconsidered until picking one. Unlike me, however, they didn’t spend time trying to choose the one with little baratin, and I was very happy about that. It meant that they knew their father better than I had known mine and had no shame to show him how much they loved him and how much he meant to them.

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In 2014, we’ve moved beyond the father prototype that my father incarnated in several ways.

We all know divorced fathers who take the custody of their children very seriously.

We all know single fathers who are in charge of their children 24/7.

We all know widowers who raise their children alone.

We all know children who have two fathers.

More than often these fathers work away from home and still manage to run a safe, happy household, as well as mothers would do.

 

So, as much as I appreciate a full day dedicated to mothers, I also want fathers to be honored and put on a pedestal for one day.

You think they don’t deserve as much attention as mothers?

You think that they don’t do as much as mothers do?

You think that too many are bad fathers?

Yes, I’ve met little girls, teenage girls, young women, and older women who’ve shared sad, devastating stories about their fathers.

I’ve also met many whose eyes sparkle at the name of their father.

Today, I propose a cease-fire between the camp that believes that mothers do an outstanding job and fathers a so-so job.

Today, I propose to thank and celebrate all fathers for the lasting role they play in our lives.

Happy Father’s Day to every father on earth.

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P.S. Literature is not always doing a good job at depicting multifaceted, modern fathers. If you want to read or recommend a YA book with a father who is far from being flawless but loves the daughter he’s raising alone after his wife deserted them, try Please, Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King.

Additionally, the author is (in my opinion) one of the top YA authors on this planet.

 

Comments

  1. That was truly beautiful, Evelyne!

  2. Sisyphus47 says:

    On ne comprend bien qu’après: telle est la vie…

  3. Beverly Broughton says:

    A very moving tribute…thanks for both sharing and caring deeply for fathers and their presence in the lives of their beloved children.
    Bev

  4. Oh Evelyne, I’m sorry for your loss. Your father was surely a very fine man. I’m glad you have such wonderful memories.
    Hugs,
    teagan

    • Thank you, Teagan. My Papa was cool and handome. I wished we had spoken more often together but I knew that he loved me. And his love helped me to go on with my life. It seems a little crazy but now that he’s no longer here I feel his presence and hear his laugh and voice. And it’s not really so sad any longer. Thank you for your hugs and for your latest post too.

  5. Such a beautiful post. I am so sorry for your loss, but I appreciate your sharing your thoughts. It’s funny, “Don’t water the garden when the sun is at its highest.” “Fill up your gas tank before it’s empty.” are both things my father said to me, and I’ve passed the latter onto my daughter. When she has a garden, I’ll pass along the former too.

    I can tell you that your father probably knew all the things you wish you had said to him. The father persona is complicated, but we do catch those looks and we do read between the lines pretty well. I laughed a little when I read that you would struggle so hard to get the right card and still have to translate it. I’m sure both actions meant a lot to him. Happy Father’s Day to your husband, and thanks again for sharing such wonderful thoughts.

    • Thank you, Dan. Your post about your dad made me cry, you know. We often say and read that girls and women are more complex than boys and men but I disagree. All of us are emotional creatures who need to connect. Men were only taught at an early age to toughen up. I smiled about your response about the tips. Practical never hurts, right?
      Happy Father’s Day to you.

  6. Karen Schulz says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly and openly, Evelyne. What a lovely tribute to your own father. I appreciate your encouragement to us all to honor our own fathers.

    • Thank you, Karen, for stopping by to add your kind words to my post. Yes, we should not forget the dads from all around the world. They do an extremely important job and children need them to go on with their lives.

  7. You know Evelyne, as I read this post about your dad and knowing that you know about my dad, I can see a lot of myself here. Very poignant comment too about mothers, I’ll just quickly add, that it sometimes takes living far away that shows us the true significance of those rituals that we carry on. I found this to be so very true…

    Even with all my dad’s problems, I had times with him as a young girl and glimpses of times beyond into adulthood, that give me the man I know him to be, and as he was, handsome, loving and protective of me. I’ve always known that he loves me but that he was unable to control his drinking addiction. It took my writing my first article about my relationship with him and how I came to terms with it all that enabled him to say to me that he was so proud of me and gave me his full blessing to share his story.

    Reading here, I love the way you so delicately illustrate what you want to convey, yet powerfully tell the reader so much, in what you don’t say as well as what you do say. My father has always laughed, told jokes, funny stories and makes light of his situation. He also talks fast and deflects our conversations away from his situation. Anything rather than talk about himself.

    I am glad you were able to be with your dad in those final hours Evelyne but I also hear your message loud and clear, if I may take it personally. Dad knows that I love him but I need to tell him, write to him, and thank him for the good he gave me, so that he can read it for himself and remember and know that no matter what, his life counted for something…

    I thank you so much my friend and for sharing your heart here. Sending hugs to you on this day as you remember your father…and the man he was and always will be, to you…

  8. Oh Evelyne, you made me cry with this one. My dad died thirteen years ago now, but I still feel the loss of him. He was also a quiet man and we never spoke love in words, but I’ll always look up to him as one of the greatest influences in my life. If I knew then what I know now, I would have told him what he meant to me, even if that would have made us both uncomfortable. This was a beautiful tribute to your dad and all dads.

    • Then, you must feel what I feel, Andrea. One blogger above (Sisyphus) wrote in French that we all understand everything later in life and that’s what living is about. He’s 100% right. There is no way we can live differently. Thank you again, Andrea. Peace to you.

  9. We do have many things in common, Sherri. I knew it when I met you on your blog. Your posts about your dad are very moving. Love between children and their parents is a complex and sometimes messy bond. But we have to live with it. We don’t choose our parents but we can learn a lot about ourselves through them and their lives. Our dads are especially important for us girls as they are the first men in our lives.
    Thank you again for your meaningful response. As always a real pleasure to read you.
    See you later on your blog.

  10. I’m sorry your father is no longer present on earth, Evelyne. I appreciate your deep love for him and his influence on your life – so many similarities to my father going to WWII at age 17 and coming home to live simple values like filling the tank, eating what you take and living up to your responsibilities. I am fortunate he is still with us at 88, and I cherish every conversation and moment.

    • Thank you, Sammy. I can only imagine what your dad went through when he went to war so young. My son has just turned 18 and I can’t imagine seeing him going to fight a war.
      Enjoy his company and life stories while he is still with you. Nothing in life matters more than having conversations with the people we love. Thank you again for your comment.

      • Evelyne – i forgot to thank you for suggesting a cease-fire on the tendency to denigrate Dads with a single brush of not being up to snuff. If we’d all spend more time focused on what we all contribute and less on expectations unmet, it’d go a long way to easing our stress levels. You are on target with your message!

  11. A very poignant post. As a child growing up you always look upon your father as a rock of strength and security. As you yourself get older and Father Time catches up, so – and despite the stubbornness of my father – those roles become reversed (My sister has these same stubborn battles with our fiercely independent mother).

    Reading your post I’m reminded of the death of my own father and the conundrum of the “what if moment.” I’d been working in Mexico and had literally arrived back home to the UK when my mother phoned inviting me around for Sunday lunch (that most English of traditions), but I demurred, citing jet-lag and suggesting that next weekend we would definitely come over. The following day my farther died of a heart attack.

    So I never did get to see him that next time. To be honest we’d have bored my wife and my mother stupid, talking as we would – arguing about politics, agreeing about football… as my Spanish friends woul often remark, talking about “todo y nada.”

    In my own life I at times reflect how much like my father I am – certain mannerisms, his wicked and dry sense of humour, a love of travel (before he settled, my father served in the Royal Navy and as a kid he would tell me his tales of a mysterious and exotic world far beyond the confines of my own experiences)… Perhaps that’s the greatest legacy my father left me.

    • I am sorry that you didn’t get to say goodbye to your father, Steve. The bond between parents and their children is complex and never perfect. Fathers represent safety for a child, you are right. As we grow we understand that they are less extraordinary than we thought they were, but they are still the first men in our lives. Through them, we learn a lot from the outside world and much later we might find that they passed some of their traits of character and passion to us. Thank you for stopping by.

  12. Beautifully done Evelyne. And I am reminded that much of who we are is determined by our culture. There was a time, not very long ago, that the definition of the ideal male was the strong, silent type–not able to show emotion, not able to cry. –Curt

  13. Moving tribute, Evelyne.

  14. Beautiful post, Evelyne. I remember some nice thoughts you had recently about your father on a post on the Normandy invasions. I hadn’t realized you’d lost him last year, so it’s nice to read this moving post about your first Father’s Day without him. I couldn’t agree more about the importance of father’s and the key role they play in their children’s lives. BTW, here in Italy Father’s Day is celebrated on the name day of St Joseph – in March.

    • Thank you, Kimberly. My dad was a good man and a good father. Probably because his death was premature and sudden, I have spent more time remembering his stories and hearing his voice when I’m doing something at home or in the yard, or even driving.
      Makes sense that Italy celebrates Father’s Day on the name day of St Joseph. Good idea in fact. See you soon on your blog.

  15. This is a very touching and beautiful post, Evelyn, thank you. I’m sorry for your loss. Still, you have those wonderful memories, and they are so precious.
    I must be part of this women who have indeed a dreadful experience with their father, and yet, there’s nothing I regret more than not knowing what it truly feels to have a father who takes care of me, just the same way as my mum does. We could live without father, of course, but in my case, and as my mum is now rebuilding her life up with a super-great guy, I just start to be aware of what I had missed for all these years.
    Again, thank your for these words.

    • I am sorry that your didn’t have a good relationship with your father and I am moved by your words and your honesty. As always, thank you for visiting me and taking the time to comment on my post. See you on your great blog soon.

  16. This is a so moving and touching post Evelyne ! Your beautiful words made me remind of my own beloved father, you know . I was so happy to share lovely and funny moments with yours ! It makes feel good to read you .Thank you.

    • Thank you, Marie. I might have stirred some sad memories when you read this post. But I am still glad that you enjoyed the stories I told here. Thank you for your visit and kind words.

  17. This is one of the most beautiful posts of yours that I’ve read, my friend. Your father sounds like a good man. I’m sorry you lost him, but appreciate being able to read such a tribute to him.

  18. Un billet magnifique d’émotion et pourtant tout en retenu, merci de ce partage Evelyne. Je suis sûre que votre père, malgré le coma à ressentit tout ce que vous vouliez lui dire, enfin. Ce n’est jamais facile de trouver les mots.

    • Merci, Pomdepin. Votre visite me fait plaisir ainsi que vos mots de récomfort et de compréhension. J’ai presque envie de vous tutoyer depuis tout ce temps passé sur nos blogs mutuels. Le “you” anglais est tellement plus simple! Merci encore.

  19. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for the pingback and your kind words. See you.

  20. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for the pinback and your kind words. Se you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] read a lovely post on Father’s Day by my friend Evelyne Holingue, whose beautiful words always make me think.  This is the second […]

  2. […] My emotions and thoughts are still the same on this 2015 Father’s Day as they were last year. […]

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