Let Me Tell You About My Father…
She sits on my father’s Barcalounger
on his imaginary lap
and speaks to him,
thanking him for visiting today.
She tells him all the places she’s seen him,
in the small plane in the July sky,
in the hummingbird she has waited days for,
in the squirrel she says looks empathetically at her.
He’s been dead a year now,
but my mother tells me she saw my father
plain as day in a license plate, J O N,
and in the butterfly flitting about the bird bath.
She sits on his lap,
hugging his triangular American flag,
tells him she saw him,
that she’ll look for him again tomorrow,
that she’ll know when she sees the white van,
the shooting star,
the sunflower seedling in the geranium pot,
the moth clinging to the screen,
that’s it’s him,
he’ll always be there,
she doesn’t have to worry.
~John L. Stanizzi, from his upcoming book of poetry, Hallelujah Time.
his weekend I invited some of the special people I know ~ from poets whose work has appeared in Combustus magazine to a dancer friend of mine who immigrated from Hungary ~ to share with us some of the wisdom they’ve received over the years from their fathers as well as what has been passed on to their own children.
The Love of a Father
“A father is a father,” father said. “All I can do is repeat who I am. There’s no definition for my love for you. If you needed a kidney, I’d give you one of mine if it was medically possible. Though, I already gave you my heart and your body hasn’t rejected it.”
The Gift of Wisdom That Didn’t Fade
John L. Stanizzi. poet, Connecticut:
“We lost my dad to Alzheimer’s last year; it was a ten-year struggle for him. A struggle against being slowly erased.
The lessons my father taught me are so simple, and yet utterly vital. Here are a few of the most important ones:
Don’t say it if you’re not going to do it.
There will be lots of things in life that you have to do that you don’t want to do. Just do them, respectfully.
Be on time to work, regardless of what you did the night before.
Be kind and generous! You cannot take it with you.
Be honest! Honor your name, because it’s my name, too.
And how profoundly gratifying to see my own children, grown and with families of their own, demonstrate my father’s values and pass them on to their own families.”
Gift From A Father to Daughter: A Simple Stone As Memory of Home
Kriszti VanSlyke, dancer, Sherwood, Oregon:
“My father gave me a small rock for good luck to take on my journey. I was twenty, heading out to a three-month cultural exchange program to the US from Hungary. Little did he know I would find the love of my life and I would put my roots down on the other side of the world in a land where he’d never been, and that I would hold that small grey rock from our garden in my hand and in my pocket for years to come, even sleeping with it under my pillow. It would represent my connection to my roots, to all the love I received from him, the strength and the courage, the trust in the world and myself. My father taught me to walk with my eyes and heart wide open and to dance whenever I have a chance. I’m so grateful to him.”
Shared Just Before Passing: Gift From A Young Father to Son
Omer Khan, poet, professor, Pakistan:
“Many years ago, on my 10th Birthday, my father gave me a copy of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that he’d owned himself during his school days. He told me how much he had enjoyed reading this adventure, time and again, over the years, and that it was more than just a simple story or adventure: it was a ”whole world that you can enter through these pages.” As my father passed away soon after this at a very young age, the book became a double blessing in my life, as all its people, history and deeds would remind me always of him.
But this book is even more than that. It is an example of the sort of imagination he had, of his literary tastes, and of the creativity within that he wished to open and channel for his children. At an age when most kids around me were receiving more mundane gifts, I received from my dad the gift of a soul.”
When the Gifts Are Harder to See
“Most of us don’t have the father we see extolled in cards and TV commercials on Father’s Day, the perfect man who taught us to be strong and loving and accomplished, the man who threw footballs and washed the dishes. Most of us had fathers who were flawed. As were their fathers, and their father before them, back through the reflecting funhouse mirrors of ancestry that never stop echoing the same diminishing image. Reflecting back at last to our own flawed selves.
My father was not a violent man, but he always seemed lost and afraid. This feeling increased when I was eleven. I still have this memory of my father approaching me while I was watching cartoons one afternoon and telling me it was my duty to protect my younger brother from a larger, fourteen-year-old bully in the neighborhood. I was terrified. Why me? Why couldn’t he do it?
At the time, I didn’t know my father had been abandoned during the Depression by his own father, shuffled off to live with a family who lived on a farm, people my father had never met. People who locked my father out of the house during the day, leaving him to wander the woods. His own father, my grandfather, had braved the disease and squalor of steerage to travel to this country, not a penny in his pocket or a phrase of English in his mouth. How was he to know the harm that would occur from turning his son over to the care of someone whom he felt could at least feed his son, give him a place to shelter? How could he guess his act of caring would leave my father hurt, insecure, feeling homeless?
My grandfather made his way through life doing whatever was necessary to survive – running pool halls, grocery stores, trading land – but he was uncertain about my father’s ability to live in this world. He told my mother’s parents, on the night my mother and father would marry, that the new couple would have to live with his in-laws because he felt my father was incapable of taking care of himself.
Although throughout my childhood, my father was sporadically out of work, he did make a living. But did he make a life?
I have enough of my grandfather’s adventurousness to overcompensate for my father’s uncertainty. And somewhere along the line, I developed the belief that life mattered, that it wasn’t just about getting by, that it was important to be active in the public world, to make your voice heard. Part of that was my need to feel I mattered, something I believe my father never felt. Mainly though, that came from a sense of empathy for the lives I witnessed around me, especially those living in the projects one street over from my first home. My father’s oft-voiced compassion for deer killed by hunters somehow morphed into my concern for friends beaten or abused by parents, hunger, lack of money.
My father wasn’t able to tell me he loved me until I was fifty. At that point he went through a spell of about six months when he said it often, but he has rarely voiced it since. Which is perhaps why I go overboard saying it to my own two sons, even now that they are in their twenties. Because no matter my flaws, how many screwed up things I did in raising them, at least I want them to know I love them. At least that. I want them to know the errors I make are not errors of hate or, worse, indifference.
Most fathers I know screw up. Is love enough to overcome that?
Fathers can make their kids nervous or fearful or arrogant or self-centered. The difficulty is that fathers can’t tell until afterwards the effect of their behavior on their children.
I exposed my sons to Kurosawa and Chaplin films when they were six, taught them to play European strategy games, all of which ultimately isolated them from their peers who were still playing Candyland, watching cartoons. I railed openly about politics, encouraged them to argue their opinions, which made them contentious if independent-minded. I taught them the evils of Capitalism, the value of having your own time, and now I have two sons trying to make a living outside the mainstream – I never taught them how difficult that would be, how many people fail trying. Was this a gift? Are they better for my own parenting decisions? I don’t know. But there is my legacy. Only time will reveal how and what they choose to pass on.”
In response, New Jersey pychotherapist Andrew Nargolwala offers this advice:
“To fathers, don’t worry about meeting some societal image or ideal of what a man or father should be; being a loving, concerned, and available (emotionally as well as physically) presence in your child’s life is a great foundation. And all of us need to celebrate and internalize all the good, caring, and nurturing people in our lives, whether we have had them as parents or not.”
The Gift of Shared Interests and Pasttimes, and Then…The Gift of Trusting and Letting Go
“Musically, my inspiration comes definitely from my exposure to a huge library of music. I grew up in a very musical house—my dad, a self-made musicologist, had vinyl spinning all the time…”
For this Father’s Day tribute, then, I asked his father, Byron Cisneros, to share a few words with us about his approach to parenting:
Byron Cisneros, Florida:
“Let your children develop their own wings and how far they want to fly. Just give them a little encouragement to take off, the rest is up to them.”
Musician Keith Linwood Stover of Bangor Maine also shared a love of music with his father:
“My mother and father divorced when I was six months old and I was raised by a series of stepfathers. When he was twenty-eight, my father was offered a recording contract by Warwick Records. Unfortunately, he lost his right arm from the elbow down. And with that, the record deal. But this didn’t stop him from becoming the best one-arm guitar player in Maine.
The accident was caused by his brother, who was driving drunk at the time.
When I reunited with my father in my twenties, we discovered that he and I shared an affinity for music and a common spiritual faith. At one point I asked him if he was bitter toward his brother. “Of course not,” he told me, “he was my brother.” This ability of his to forgive has resonated with me over the years, even as I have failed to forgive others of lesser offenses.
John L. Stanizzi: visit Amazon.com to see the latest books available for John Stanizzi.
Hal Sirowitz: Read Hal’s full interview in Combustus here: “You Can Thank His Dad for That Dry Wit.“
Richard Krawiec: see the Books by Richard Krawiec on Amazon.com
Keith Linwood Stover: The Stockton Project’s debut album American Rock now available on Amazon.com.
Andrew Nargolwala, MSW, LCSW, MA, is a practicing psychotherapist in Bergen County, New Jersey. He also has taught writing and literature at schools including Queens College. For more about Mr. Nargolwala and his philosophy on an intentional life, read the Combustus pieces, “The Lies We’re Told, The Lies We Tell Ourselves, and the Hopeful Truth” and “The Life Imagined.“
Jago Thorne: from Soundcloud