Some Late Musings on Fathers Day

Yellowstone - Dark Sky

Father’s Day was different this year.

The beginning of the day was busy enough that I didn’t even remember that it was Father’s Day and by the time evening came there was more to think about than usual.

My day started in Waverly, IA.  I woke up in a tent surrounded by hundreds of other tents at the tail end of the Gentlemen of the Road music festival.  The rumblings of other campers waking and packing marked the otherwise quiet morning. I drifted in and out of sleep as I listened to them and stared at the morning light glowing through the nylon of our tent. As the sun got brighter the stuffiness of the tent got worse, so I shook Tim awake and we began packing up our things.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

We had accumulated enough things at our campsite that it was impossible to only take one trip to the car, so we packed half our things and walked to the parking lot. There had been so much rain during the festival that the field in which everyone had parked had muddy patches that were deep and sticky enough to rob people of their shoes and trap some cars.  Ankle deep in mud, we filled Tim’s car and drove it out along the driest route we could find.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

We parked in a nearby neighborhood and walked back to the campsite, munching on GoMacro bars I had left over from a promo.  We took down the tent and emptied the cooler as we recounted the awful condition of the parking area to our friends.  The campground began to hum with the sound of everyone realizing that a leisurely morning might mean stuck cars.  We couldn’t have timed our exit better.

I didn’t think about my Dad once.

I drove.  We had a brief murmured conversation about which turns to take to get to the highway and which Taco Johns we would stop at on our way back into the cities.  And then Tim, who stayed out a couple hours longer than me almost every night, fell asleep.  I put the music on shuffle, glared at the Illinois driver who could not maintain a speed to save her life, and ate a million Jalapeno Cheetos.

And I thought about my Dad a little bit.

I thought about the idea I’ve had recently, about how my Dad isn’t one person anymore.  About how in some ways his lack of existence makes him a quantitatively negative presence.  When a person dies they become a -1 instead of a zero.  Remembering my father is to experience a gap, a blip, a moment of negative space. A zero would be something that never was.  A -1 is something that should still be.

Driving through Iowa, I briefly worried that I had missed my exit, especially when the highway randomly branched in a way that didn’t quite make sense at 75 mph.  I drank some Rockstar, looked at Tim sleeping beside me, and switched the music to a Murder By Death album (which is much less metal and much more folk than the uninitiated might assume) that had caught my ear on shuffle.

I thought about my Dad a little more.

I thought about how when my Dad died he fragmented into countless pieces in the memories of everyone who knew him.

I thought about how I have as many fathers as there are people who remember him.

That is not to say that anyone who remembers my Dad is responsible for imparting their memories of him or that they are responsible for filling roles he left empty.  Rather, my father simply exists in the minds of everyone who remembers him and in each mind he is a slightly different person.

My Dad continues to exist in my life, my mother’s life, my siblings’ lives, and his friends’ lives, but he is not the same person to any of us. Every once in a  while we will disagree about what advice he would give or what opinions he would hold. None of us know how the last eight years would have shaped his personality and worldview, and we unsurprisingly speculate in our own favor.  How could this man, who we loved and respected so much, not also come to exactly the same conclusions about everything?

And so there are all of these ethereal, inauthentic Carletons floating around in the minds of everyone who knew him.

The Taco Johns we chose to stop at was in Tim’s home town, so I shook him awake and he gave me a tour of the neighborhoods he had lived in, his high school, and the places he had worked.

I didn’t think about my Dad.

We got back on the road and Tim found out that he would not be celebrating Fathers Day with his family until later in the week.  He seemed a little disappointed, but insisted he wasn’t when I asked.

I thought about Fathers Day.

I couldn’t remember most of them, but I could remember the one from two years ago. I had just moved with my boyfriend at the time to his hometown and, despite really liking his dad and despite my boyfriend’s assurances that they would probably barely even acknowledge the holiday, I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate with them. I sat on the rooftop deck in our new building, feeling guilty and staring across the city and into the ocean while I thought about families and holes in lives.

We got back to Tim’s place where we unpacked, showered, and took naps.  We had left the campgrounds early enough that there was still a lot of light, so we biked to a nearby Asian grocery to buy soup supplies.  He seemed really down, so I asked him again if he was disappointed that he wasn’t with his kid for Fathers Day. He said he was just tired.  I was doubtful.

I thought about Fathers Day.

I thought about the line in the blog I had written on that Fathers Day two years ago that said “I’m not married with children, so I can’t recalibrate and experience father’s day as a mother instead.” and I realized that there was yet another way of experiencing Fathers Day.  And, surprisingly, that way of experiencing Fathers Day was even more alienating than the last six Fatherless Days had been.  Surrounded by friends and family with fathers and spouses, I could not only be fatherless, but also incongruently childless.

We made dinner.  I overheard the tail end of a conversation he had with his kid on the phone.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

I think we watched a movie.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

We went to sleep.

I thought about my Dad.  I thought about my boyfriend.

And Fathers Day ended.


I want my Daddy

I don’t have these days often anymore.

Even immediately after my father died, I didn’t feel as big of a gap in my day to day life as I expected.  Part of that was simply that I’d just started college, so I wasn’t around home to notice that he wasn’t.  I was in the middle of trying to spread my wings and find my place in the world, so I didn’t expect my Dad to be much more than a weekly(ish) phone call, an email here and there, and a part of my visits to Minnesota.

Of course, every once in a while I would have a question that I felt like only he could answer.  He, obviously, was not around, so I’d lose it.  I’d bury myself in painting or journals or blogs and I would stop fucking sleeping because there was only one voice that I needed and that voice was permanently unavailable.  I’d break down sobbing in a circle of friends, so lost in my own tears that I couldn’t even see the stutter of confusion flicker across their faces as they processed the suddenness of my outbreak. I would pick up and leave the place where I was, move to new cities or take trips to different countries with barely any notice.  I would walk the long sidewalks of Chicago in the comparative quiet of the night with my hood up and my earbuds in.  I would close doors both literal and figurative and shut my ears to every voice that breathed.  I could handle reading.  I could handle movies and television shows and podcasts.  I couldn’t handle the kind of people who stood, flesh and bone, in front of me, because they were never the right person.

And today, for the first time in at least a year, it hit me again.

Sitting behind the wheel of my big, clunky Buick, staring at a red light and trying to shape the thoughts in my mind into something cohesive, I realized who I needed to talk to.

Whose advice I needed.

Whose voice I needed to hear.

My throat constricted.  I bit the insides of my lower lip.  The insides of my torso pulled further inward.

Because that voice is permanently unavailable.

My Dad was one of those people who was uniquely capable of bridging viewpoints that are notoriously difficult to bridge.  He was balanced, level and incredibly gifted with perspective both nuanced and practical.  In addition to this he also had a very moral core from which he rarely, if ever, wavered.  He listened and spoke well.  He expressed his beliefs with gentleness and authority.

And that is exactly what I need right now.

Part of the struggle of growing up, the reason why you need to be surrounded by people who are intelligent and thoughtful, is because sometimes it is really hard to tell if the decisions you’re making are okay.

It’s really hard to tell if the compromises you choose to make err in unhealthy directions.  It’s really hard to tell if the moments in which you do choose to stand firm are moments of childish stubbornness, moral victory or some murky in-between.  It’s really hard to tell if you’re turning into an adult or if you’re just getting older and more authoritative.

Sometimes you need someone to tell you.

I have plenty of people around me who are incredibly intelligent and thoughtful who I could talk to about my struggle to grok adulthood.

But none of them are my Dad.

None of them have his nuanced world view, his way of very kindly telling me exactly why I’m wrong or why he’s proud of me, his moral compass or his warm hug at the end of a hard conversation.

That’s all I want.

And it is the one thing I cannot have.

Often life gets distracting and full and beautiful and I think it’s healthy that I don’t always realize how big of a hole you left when you died.

But then there are days like today and the hurt is just as powerful as it was when I first heard you were gone.

I miss you.

I wish we’d had more time.

I'd take another puzzle date with you and Matt any day.

I’d take another puzzle date with you and Matt any day.

Fatherless Day

I have a feeling that I’ve written a (better) post like this before, so forgive me if you remember the contents of my blog better than I do.

Today is Father’s Day and I don’t have one.   I mean I had one and he was a good one and I loved him very much, but he’s been gone for a while now and there are no other fathers in my life.  My Mum hasn’t remarried.  I have no grandfathers or male role models who I consider father figures.  I’m not married with children, so I can’t recalibrate and experience father’s day as a mother instead.  I have uncles, obviously.  I have friends with children and brothers-in-law who are responsible for my nieces and nephews and my brother is about to be a father, but those relationships are far enough removed from the realm of my personal experience of fatherhood that they can’t possibly count.

So Father’s Day, for me, is just a sad reminder that there is a hole in my life.

Usually it is pretty easy to disregard this hole. I am an adult, after all, and my father, much as I loved him, wouldn’t be a huge part of my life at this point anyways. We would talk on the phone maybe a couple times a month, he would be supportive and would offer words of encouragement and advice when I needed them. I would be interested in his work and whatever he was reading.  I’m sure it would seem like a pretty basic relationship from the outside, but relationships are like icebergs in that way.  There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of sporadic phone calls with the people who you love, even when it doesn’t feel like there is.

My Dad has been dead for five years at this point, too, so I feel kind of dumb when I am sad about him being gone. I ask myself if I just grieved wrong (which is a nonsensical idea to begin with) or if I’m projecting another issue onto what I think is sadness about my Dad’s absence, but the truth is that sometimes this shit just sneaks up on you.

Father’s Day is like when I am watching a movie or reading a book with a wedding in it. And then I have to watch a father/daughter dance or a poignant walk down the aisle (or, worst case scenario, both), constantly being reminded of the sheer impossibility of my ever experiencing either of those things myself.  It is impossible for me to ever take that slow walk, arm in arm with my father, and consider in measured steps, that one chapter of my life is giving way to the next.  It is similarly impossible for me to decide that being walked down the aisle is an archaic tradition in which I’d rather not partake.

Father’s Day is similar to hearing someone casually mention something their Dad did for them and being struck, with strange suddenness, that for the last five years and for the rest of forever, I won’t ever be able to tell a similar story.

Father’s Day is like hearing someone complain about something that their Dad did that sucked and thinking about how sometimes even something awful sounds better than something that simply isn’t there.

Father’s Day is all of those things multiplied by hundreds and compounded into one day.  Facebook is littered with old pictures of kids with their dads and sentimental statuses.  Store signs and advertisements and spam emails inquire if I got my Dad his gift yet and my rhetorical answer is just a buzzing radio static in my head.  Because obviously I haven’t.

It doesn’t help that I’m not with my family this Father’s Day.  I don’t think we would celebrate or acknowledge the day, but we might mention him a few more times than usual.  We might be able to talk about how we’ve been feeling sad for the past few days.  We might talk about how crazy it is that there are so many days to remind us of him throughout the course of the year and that sometimes it seems overwhelming.  Birthday, deathday, his wedding anniversary, Father’s Day.  It’s relentless.  Not all of them are solely his, but all of them are a reminder of him and consequently a reminder that he’s gone.

I was supposed to celebrate Father’s Day with Zach’s family today and in some ways I really wanted to.  It would be nice to spend time with them; it’s gorgeous outside and they’re going to be barbecuing and; most importantly, Zach’s dad is really nice: someone who is completely worth celebrating.  But there is just enough of me that is feeling emotionally volatile right now that I couldn’t do it.  I can’t explain it better than that; there is a five-year old sadness in me and it’s closer to the surface than usual.  Maybe it’s Father’s Day.  Maybe it’s that I’m a little bit homesick.  Maybe it’s any number of things or all of them combined, but it is clear that today is not a day to make a good impression on my boyfriend’s family.  Today is a day to distract myself or to reflect.

So now that I’ve reflected I think that I am going to go read a book in a park in my new city and call a family member to see if they’re feeling better than me.  *coevieweplannedthisiwillbecallingyousoonugh*