Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Oh my papa

The last time I saw my dad, I knew, in the back of my heart, that it would be the last time. I said, “We’ll work through this.” He was crying.

Some would say it’s unfortunate that we never did work through the great conflict that had been in the background for many years. It seems sad that a father and son can’t negotiate their way through a problem. Family is everything, you’ll hear people say, and the bond between father and son is one of the strongest. But my father left our family when I was twelve, moving from St. Louis to California and becoming — the way I usually thought of him all through those earlier years — a disembodied voice on the telephone.

I’m sure I came out to California in part to find a way to be closer to him. But he always had a defensive wall around him, a suspicion that I was there to make him feel guilty or to extract some kind of contrition. Once, after an evening of drinking, he said, “I have no regrets in life,” and I thought that was probably the biggest lie he’d ever told. He was estranged from his other three children. How could he have no regrets?

The last time I saw my dad, he had become a small man. He’d always been a couple inches taller than me, but that night, as I hugged him around the neck and said what I said, I realized the he had been reduced over the years and that I now towered over him.

For those who are lucky enough to have warm and healthy relationships with their fathers, this is a happy day. But for those whose fathers were, or are, hard to fathom, distant, closed, or absent, take it easy on yourself. Reconciliation is a two-way street.

18 comments on “Oh my papa

  1. S.K. Nicholls
    June 19, 2016

    My dad went through some radical changes for the better in his fifties. I’m glad I was able to reconcile with my father in my adult life after a very confusing childhood. My children got to know a wonderful grandfather. Two estranged sister (out of five) never did and they resented me for having done so. When he died last year, he disinherited the two. His final way of saying, “I reached out to you, but you never reached back.” Yes, it’s a two way street.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 19, 2016

      Well, it’s those radical changes that make all the difference. Easier to reconcile with a willing partner … I’m glad you and your dad got into good graces with each other.

  2. 1WriteWay
    June 19, 2016

    I wish WordPress had a “Love” button because I love this post. I think there’s more people out there who have had a not-so-great relationship with their dads, more than Hallmark would want to acknowledge. You tried. That’s what counts, in my humble opinion.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 19, 2016

      Thanks, Marie. I thought long and hard about posting this, since I didn’t want to burst anyone’s fun bubble today. But I do think there are a lot of people out there with “complicated” relationships. Not everyone’s dad is Ward Cleaver …

  3. kingmidget
    June 19, 2016

    It sounds like we have similar relationships with our fathers, but for different reasons. My father didn’t physically remove himself from the family. He did, however, emotionally. Hard to fathom, distant, closed … yes, yes, and yes. I think it’s one of the reasons this day, like most other days we are supposed to celebrate, I struggle with. If there are holes there, what’s the point.

    The sad thing for me is that I can see myself doing to my own children and wife the same thing my father did.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 19, 2016

      I think “the sins of the father” syndrome is more common than we want to think. I know a lot of guys who’ve tried their damnedest not to repeat their fathers’ mistakes, and almost every one stumbles into it by a slightly different route.

      Your consciousness of the problem will probably help, though. You’re definitely a thoughtful person.

      • kingmidget
        June 19, 2016

        Thank you. I may be “thoughtful” but it is a struggle not to take the easy way out.

  4. pinklightsabre
    June 19, 2016

    Reconciliation, ‘die Rechnung, bitte.’ Lovely little story and words of advice here, Kevin. Nice comments from your other readers, too. Cheers to you and yours. Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 19, 2016

      I like that reconciliation is a feminine noun in German. Seems ironic on father’s day!

      • pinklightsabre
        June 19, 2016

        Just like the genders, there’s no logic to it.

  5. MacNutt
    June 19, 2016

    Thank you for these heartfelt words.

  6. John W. Howell
    June 19, 2016

    My father died when I was ten and for almost five years before he was part of the greatest generation off to war. After he was gone, I realized I did not know him and spent a number of years agonizing over the lost opportunity. (and in some ways the guilt) Your post hit me and I totally understand that this day is not the best. I have finally come to the point that if my dad had lived I believe he would be pleased with how I turned out. Of course, I have to guess. I’m sorry your dad could not give you that validation since I know what it is like not to get it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 19, 2016

      Thanks for telling your story, John. These things really affect our lives, the way we look at ourselves. My wife lost her dad when she was 8, so she has a lot of the same emotions. Intellectually we know we’re not responsible and shouldn’t feel guilty, but psychologically? It’s complicated …

      • John W. Howell
        June 20, 2016

        It certainly is. Thanks, Kevin. Peace to you both.

  7. Woebegone but Hopeful
    June 20, 2016

    This post has reality and generosity. The words must have been difficult to forge.
    Thank you for your courage and effort

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2016 by in Et alia and tagged .
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