The Empty Set

For the last 41 years, the third Sunday in June has been officially recognized as Fathers Day in the United States. Many countries around the world mark this occasion and celebrate fathers and the role they play in parenting.

Closer to home, many people of my acquaintance shared pictures of themselves and their fathers, or their families online.

Unlike my earlier paean to my mother on the occasion of her day, I haven’t got much worth sharing right now. The role my fathers played in my upbringing was fiduciary at best, and mainly defined by their absence. There are no pictures at hand I can point to to tell you the kind of men they were. You have only my words to peek back through the years, and they aren’t always good ones.

I could write here about my uncles, fathers all and the men who truly shaped my life. I could write about my grandfather (who has also passed on), or a dozen other role models who’ve passed in and out of my life and tried to be there when I needed someone. I could write about my rekindled relationship with my own son, or my friends who became fathers in the last few weeks for the first, third and nth times.

But I keep coming back to the giant hole in my life where there should be games of catch, or fishing trips, or lessons on how to shave. About the things I keep in my garage to remind me of what I was doing when I should have been scheduling those activities on my own.

What I know about fatherhood is largely summed up in how my male friends approach the institution, and how it’s changed their lives.

I’ve got a rock, and a red leather baseball glove.

I have a fragmentary memory of sitting around the dinner table in the summer of 19(coughmumble seventy-something). I don’t have a lot of clarity on events in that time period but I do remember the following exchange:

Me: “…yeah, and my other dad said….”
Thomas J. Magner: “You don’t have another father. Not anymore.”

And that was the end of that. No more trips on airplanes to visit him, no more letters. And after a galloping horse sent me into a fencepost, I couldn’t tell you what his face looks like, the sound of his voice, or how he smelled. All I have now is distant emotion, and apocryphal tales of an intelligent man with a drinking problem.

I remember a picture of me sitting on his motorcycle in the garage.

I remember a picture of two tanned men leaning against an artillery piece. I know he was in the Navy, but not which one may have been him.

I remember sitting in a room with a bunch of adults, and putting his motorcycle helmet on top of my cat. There was laughter the cat scuttled underneath like a turtle, and then a sense that the cat needed to get out, so I let it out.

I remember the feel of his arms around me as we rode the teacups at Disneyland, and the feel of his hand in mine afterward.

I remembering waking up before he did on my last visit and discovering there was no milk in the house, so I put water into one of those single-serve cereal boxes and ate it as the light came up around me. They were Fruit Loops, in case anyone is interested.

And then I remember this. Also in 70-something, I was with my mother in my parents’ bedroom, and saw a first-baseman’s mitt. I asked her what it was, and she told me it was my father’s, and that he had wanted me to have it. (Years later, I got the information that he’d correctly identified a short clip of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” played backwards)

But remember, at this point I “don’t have another father,” so in my mind this was Tom Magner’s baseball glove, and now it was mine.

There were no games of catch, but there was the World Series on television. There was a Dodgers windbreaker that I wore faithfully every day I could. I have the vaguest of memories of a Dodger dog which may in fact be wholly made up, but stronger ones of driving late at night between Las Vegas and LA on business trips and loving the sight of a highway full of lights stretched out ahead and behind us.

I remember harsh words I can never take back, and that this morning before the sun came up my boy sent me a text message.

This, I remember. I’m not the best father in the world, but I’m there when he needs me. I helped him level his warrior online, fed him real tacos with fresh squeezed lime juice drizzled over the top.

We kicked the ball around when he was younger, and on the day he was born he reached up hand held my finger tight.

I can see his smile from a state away, and he calls me Dad.

This, I remember. And never want to forget.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: