What follows is a piece I wrote as a small tribute to my own father for Father’s Day 2015. The impact a father has on his child is immeasurable. A child’s entire development hinges on both parents, but on the father in a very particular way. The entire self of the father is the base upon which a child forges and develops his own personality. It is as deep and as real as that.
A father is to a daughter as a stream is to a pebble. All the while the pebble is in the stream, it is being formed. With gentleness or violence, purity or pollution, the stream shapes the little pebble.
Last autumn, my tall, strong father was struck. With three blows (two minor, one major), these strokes changed all of our lives. Apprehension, sorrow and fear descended as a fog. A new cloudiness coloured my days while waiting for him to recover… or to not recover… or to do something else which was unknown, but terrifying. Often a hand of violence would grip my chest and tear from it loud cries, seemingly without my consent.
The last time this vice froze me in anguish, the raw depths of my being cried out for an answer, for a way out of this pain, for a path leading forward. It was into this blackness that a drop of clarity fell, slowly dissolving the black ink and showing me, as if for the first time, a truth about my father, about his life and about mine.
A collage in my mind: Dad carrying toddler me in the sun, his blue eyes shining; Dad protecting, physically and emotionally; Dad making mistakes, yelling, being overly strict; Dad insisting on being the first man to ever dance with me; Dad being miserable and unhappy with chronic fatigue; Dad supporting me moving out with a friend all the while disagreeing with my decision; Dad loving the man I married and the children we bore…
The pictures in this collage (too many to name) were bound to the paper of my life. The images and the life experiences were bound in front, behind and throughout. What amazed me was to see that the binding agent was love, as expressed in the body, mind and actions of my father. And this love completely permeated the collage. Not only with his virtuous actions did my father love me, but also through his faults. And, through loving me, he taught me what love is.
Whether he knew it or not, the person of my father provided me with a structure within which I could grow. Just as a mother provides the structure for a baby to flourish within her womb, so a father also provides this structure, this support for the development of a child in the world.
Now my dad needs me. Now is the time to love him back, to repay him (in very small part) for all he has given me, to take care of him without thinking of myself.
If I ever needed proof of the value of fatherhood, I received it that day. My dad has taught me, as expressed in his life and person, what the true value and meaning of a life is. And, he is still teaching me. When the reality of the stroke sunk in, it seemed as though my father had died while his body continued to live. Now that I am getting reacquainted with my dad, I see that he is very much alive, and I can be thankful for this time that we have left. He is still teaching us. Amid some silly thoughts, amid his pain, and despite not always seeing reality as it is, he still offers us a proof of the meaning and value of life as expressed through himself as a person. And this value is seen not only in his life that has passed, but also in his life that is present.
Ida Gazzola is the mother of six girls and one boy and lives in British Columbia, Canada. She is co-author with Julia Dee of Team Baby: Creating a Happy and Rested Family, aimed at parents of new babies.