So it’s Father’s Day. I have a dozen different versions of this post in my head right now, all convinced they are the words I want to share with the world.
But it’s Father’s Day. So let me give a shout out to all the men out there who’ve stepped up when the time was right, and stuck around until the job was done.
And another, equally large one to those that wanted to, but couldn’t. I myself am much more the latter than the former, but I had a lot of help from my mother in shaping my son into the intelligent, driven man he is today.
There are a lot of reasons why. This is not the place for any of them. Because it’s Father’s Day, and unlike the majority of Junes in my life, I have one.
Again, reasons. Early last year I reconnected with my birth father, a man I have few memories of but whose absence I’ve always felt. I’ve learned about the man he is today, gotten to know two brothers and a sister I always wanted, and watched their children grow up through pictures online.
We correspond about as often as I do with my own son, and I’m happy to be a part of his life again. I finally know where the man I see in the mirror came from, and who he’ll be in a few years. And part of the reason I’m struggling to find the right words is that I’ve already written them, as an afterward to my novel Seasons of Truth.
But here’s what I didn’t write. Some of you may know I have (or rather, had) a contentious relationship with my Dad. And I write it that way intentionally, for reasons I will share. When I talk about my Dad, I mean Thomas Magner, who once put me through a wall for letting the cats out of my room during a party. He did his best most of the time, but he learned how to parent from his own father, and as near as I can tell both men were just as broken as I am in terms of emotional availability. Tom and I had a falling out when I was 16 (my fault, mostly), and that was the end of Father’s Day for me. No more cards, no more calls, no reason to pretend he was part of my life.
Until there was. On my way down to college, my truck broke down in the high desert, and I was forced to abandon everything I owned on the side of the road. I’d already lost my wallet the day before, and I tried reaching out to him for help. It almost worked, but like most of our relationship it was just bad timing. We never spoke or corresponded again. We were family in name only, and when he passed I didn’t find out for over a year.
And that’s what stung. Not that he was gone, though the loss of any life diminishes us all. It’s that I’d let a bad situation get worse, and my pride let it fester until there was no way to ever fix it. Tom Magner died for me many years before he actually left this life, and part of me died along with him. One day, I looked in the mirror and all I could see was my Dad. I was trapped in self-destructive behaviors that made me more like him every day, and hated myself for not being a better man. For being absent from my own son’s life, and in response I looked at the world through the bottom of a glass for a few years.
Until one day I’d just had enough.
I was tired. Tired of being fat, being single, being someone who didn’t, couldn’t, love himself. Most of all, I was tired of letting someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years control my life. So I took it back, and started making changes.
I’m not done, not by a long shot. And there’s plenty of backtracking along this path. Tom Magner’s actual death hit me a lot harder than I thought it would, but some good did come from that pain. It’s what drove me to contact my birth father last year, and why I’m committed to having a relationship with James Wallace Pendleton.
Not just because he’s my father, but because I like him. I admire what he’s done with his life. I see him with his wife and children and grandchildren and I know that there’s a part of me who can be that kind of man. And when Homefront came out last year, I sent 5 copies down to a man I barely knew without a moment’s hesitation, knowing and acknowledging that I never would have sent copies to Tom.
So that’s it. This is what Father’s Day means to me. Acknowledging all the men who’ve helped shape my life would take three or four posts like this one, but I’m finally happy with the words. Thanks for reading, and if you are able to do so, reach out to your own fathers. Because it’s never too late to start again.