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Father’s Day has just come and gone, but it’s never too late to think about what these men mean to us. Here are some of my favourite reads on other people’s relationships with their fathers.
“My Father’s Voice” by Taylor Plimpton (2012)
And so “fuck” was definitely out of the question, but what about “I love you”? There was love there—actually, his inability to express it sometimes made him positively brim with it—but speak the words, his voice could not. At least, not to me, nor even to my sister, a fact she mentions in the movie. You’d be on the phone with him and get to the end of the conversation, and you’d say “I love you, Dad,” and at most, he’d reply, without subject or object, “Love,” like he was signing a letter. […] Nevertheless, it’s a strange thing that one of the great voices of modern storytelling had limitations, restrictions, words, and phrases it was incapable of uttering, matters it could not express: death, love, tragedy.
“Schemes of My Father“ by Eric Puchner (2011)
Before that, I’d often questioned whether I belonged in California, but that day at the beach was the first time I questioned whether my father belonged there as well. I began to question other things about him, too. Growing up, I’d more or less subscribed to his Gatsbyesque invention of himself as an aristocrat. There were the ascots, of course, usually paired with tweed. He liked to go bird hunting on the weekends, despite being a terrible shot. For a brief period he insisted we dress up for dinner every night, which for my brother and me meant coats and ties. He boarded horses in the country and prodded my oldest sister to take up polo. He refused to let us wear baseball caps indoors and liked to keep a Manwich-thick wad of cash in his billfold, flaunting it in front of cashiers. Even before the ascots and the polo, he’d saddled his children with increasingly absurd names meant to conjure riding breeches and hunt clubs: Alexander, Laurel, Pendleton, and his pièce de résistance, my own: Roderic. I didn’t know that my dad had been one of the poorest kids at his wealthy private school in Milwaukee, and so I’d always accepted these affectations as part of my father’s identity, as essential to who he was as his love of bratwurst. Now, though, his blue-blooded habits began to seem absurd. For the first time I saw them in the same light as my own desperate attempts to fit in, which had begun to seem absurd to me as well.
“The Daughter of the Disappeared” by Mei-Ling Hopgood (2011)
Victoria froze. She knew about the “children of the disappeared” — everyone in Argentina did. During the country’s horrific military regime, from 1976 to 1983, thousands of ordinary people were killed, tortured, and “disappeared.” The government claimed they were dangerous dissidents, but many of the victims were idealistic students and activists, and some of the women were pregnant. Their infants, delivered in jail, were stolen and given to conservative citizens who supported the dictatorship. These new “parents” raised the babies as their own. Now, 20 years after the end of the regime, humanitarian groups were trying to reunite the children of the disappeared with their biological families. At human-rights rallies, Victoria, a budding activist, had stood shoulder to shoulder with women whose pregnant daughters had been jailed. Distraught, decades later, these women were still searching for their grandchildren. She’d never dreamed she might be one of them
“Lost in the Waves” by Justin Heckert (2009)
Christopher grabbed for him again, jumping out of the water to get away from the fish, splashing salt water into Walt’s eyes. Walt went under, gulping a throatful of ocean that made him vomit again. Crying, desperate to breathe, he yelled at Christopher, at the situation. Christopher was screaming again, too. What could Walt do? There was really only one thing he could do, for the both of them. He was forced to make a horrible decision: If they stayed together, if Christopher kept clutching his father, they would both drown. Their only chance was for Walt to separate himself from Christopher, to hope that his son could stay afloat on his own. It was the only choice that made any sense. He looked at his son again, then pushed him away into the ocean.
“My Father’s Fashion Tips” by Tom Junod (1996)
I mean, Adam and Eve found that quick enough—that clothes are totems of simultaneous confession and disguise. They are masks that unmask you, and what I knew of my father, through his clothes, was this: that he was going out. That he was going away. That he was heading for Miami or Atlanta or Dallas…that he was dressing for other people, an audience somewhere; that he was dressing for Frank and Ava and Dino and Liz and Zsa Zsa; that he was dressing for the world; that he belonged to the world as much as he belonged to us, and we had to let him go. Let him go—that’s what my mother always said when my father was going out, and a few months ago, when I visited one of our old next-door neighbors, this is what she told me: “I remember one day your father was flying south, and he had a black tan, and he was wearing a white Bill Blass jumpsuit with a zipper, and I said to myself, ‘This is the most gorgeous creature I’ve ever seen.’ And I said to your mother, ‘Fran, are you going to let this man out like this?’ And your mother said, ‘Ah, let him go. Let him go.’ ”