My son returned to Evanston yesterday after four days in Kansas City. I spent my evening at a Rotary dinner, and fell asleep, exhausted, but thinking about what to write in this blog today. I am fully aware that it is Father’s Day. But we have no fathers here; we do not celebrate that particular Hallmark Holiday.
My father made choices which resulted in his turning in a poor performance as parent to my siblings and me, though he did better as a grandfather. My son’s father shunned the role. He paid child support for 18 years but never saw Patrick, by his choice. I did nothing to prevent the relationship and in fact encouraged it, though I did return to Kansas City from Arkansas where Patrick’s father lives, in order to take a job when my law firm in Fayetteville hit financially difficult times. I needed employment. But Patrick’s father knew where he was. And so.
Three of my brothers have given spectacular performances as fathers; one did not, with infamous results. Of my husbands (my three hundred husbands, as I like to say), two were fathers in their own right; and one can honestly be said to have been a crackerjack father to both of his children. The other got it right on the third try and raised one of three daughters with zest and acumen.
My father-in-law, Jabez MacLaughlin, criticized himself as a father, to me, in many private conversations. I understand where he thought he had failed — but I understood, too, his love for his children and his profound pride in the lives which they had made for themselves, especially as parents. He also gave me something that my own father could not or did not do. He loved me unreservedly as a daughter, accepting me, being kind to me, giving me advice, and receiving me into his heart. He redeemed the concept of fatherhood for me; I felt loved, and I mourned his death as a daughter mourns the passing of her father.
My experience of fathers has been broadened by my friends, most of whom seem to understand the concept and who give fatherhood their whole-hearted effort. In my law practice, I’ve seen fathers like mine, who fail their children through choices made in the throes of addiction or mental illness. I’ve also seen fathers in my private practice who want nothing less than the chance for one-hundred percent engagement. That the mothers of their children resist baffles me. I would have moved heaven and earth for my son’s father just to see him once in a while, let alone several times each week, let alone whenever possible — let alone to make a home for their children so that time spent can be something far more than “visitation”. When a woman refuses to let a man parent their child, with no domestic violence, or addiction, or criminal activity involved, I cannot help but conclude that something deeper and more insidious drives her. It could be bitterness at the end of their marriage; a haunted memory from her own childhood; or fear that the children will ultimately stop loving her if she “lets” their father be an active participant in their lives.
This reflection on fatherhood might have been triggered by the annual holiday that most are celebrating today, but it directly impacts my quest to live complaint-free. Many of my personal demons grew from the festering muck left behind when I moved out of my parents’ home. My father abused all of us, some worse than others, and for many years. In those days, men did not suffer any societal consequences for beating their wives and children. My father endured nothing more than an occasional overnight in the city jail “to sober up”, and the scoldings of a priest from our parish in later years. Oh, I’m sure he had inner turmoil in his last months on earth. We talked about it. And I get that he most likely suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as an aftermath of serving in combat in World War II. That aside, though, he visited some mighty cruel conduct on us, and I keenly feel the impact in my life. Speaking only for myself, I understand that I left my childhood damaged. I did not confront that damage for years and years. My troubled soul guided my outward disposition, which manifested in a state of joylessness and complaint.
As I reflected on whether to mention Father’s Day in my blog entry today, all of this swirled and emerged from the still, deep waters of my soul. I find myself left with one conclusion: That “father” as a word describes not a “biological progenitor”, but an action. I reject it as a noun or appellation. I embrace the term “father” as a verb, not meaning “to sire”, but “to nurture”.
So: I send my most devout good wishes to men everywhere who have nurtured children — as a birth-giver, an adopter, a person who married the child’s mother, a coach, a mentor, or a surrogate — like my father-in-law and favorite curmudgeon, Jay MacLaughlin.
To you all, the male nurturers of children, my inner child sends heartfelt love and gratitude.
It’s the nineteenth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining. I send greetings from my deck, in Brookside, Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, USA, North American Continent, planet Earth, Milky Way Galaxy. I, Mary-Corinne Teresa Corley, daughter of Richard Adrian Corley, mother of Patrick Charles Corley, and a tiny speck in a sometimes ruthless but enduring, hopeful universe, bid you Happy Father’s Day.
Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin, my favorite curmudgeon and father-in-law.