It’s father’s day. My father died over eight years ago and I still miss him. But, I ask you—who does not miss their father? Even if it was never the relationship you wished for, even if they are still alive, there is still an emptiness somewhere, an unknown longing, grief. Don’t we all miss our fathers, and our mothers, too, for that matter? Don’t we all long for some dreamed-of parents, some fantasy life without drama, without betrayal, without abandonment?
But life is not a clean story arc, with a hero who overcomes her problems neatly by the story’s end. Perhaps that is why I love a good t.v. drama. Because the ongoing stumbling and backsliding—turning away from the bottle only to fall into again three episodes later, choosing the bad boyfriend over the good one, sending the daughter to Catholic school instead of doing some hard core family therapy—is so much more like real life. And sometimes when the shows are cut mid-season it’s almost better. Because a show’s finale almost always seeks again to bring things to that soothing, tidy conclusion. The writers can’t resist. It’s how they are trained and, somehow it’s what we long for. Neat endings, professionally-tied bows, carefully folded wrapping paper.
But my father and mother and one of my brothers did not have a writers’ room carving out their stories. They, like all of us, made their own choices, stumbled through their lives and ultimately left this world with messy relationships left unresolved. Each of them was not speaking to the other when they died. So those of us who remained, my other brother, my sister and I, did the only thing we could. We took their ashes in three boxes down a long pier at the Jersey shore and dumped them together into the Atlantic Ocean.
For a while I regretted that I had not done some sort of ceremony or ritual at that moment, had not said some sort of prayer that in death they would find their way back to each other. But instead we went down the pier amid the multitude of other summer family vacationers, sustaining the usual lightweight bickering on the right location, until the moment we each held one box, and turned them upside down in silence. The ashes disappeared, my siblings’ spouses and children stood behind us, watching. Then my brother said something like, “Let’s all learn from that. Don’t any of you kids ever let anything come between you.”
And we all nodded solemnly, looked at each other, and started walking back down the pier for ice cream. And that is really how life goes. No resolution. Only the ongoing decisions that constitute a life.
Happy Father’s Day.