My father died in 2003, and we had a complicated relationship. He had the kind of troubles that made reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” completely appropriate, and not because he was tenacious or “full of life.” Dylan Thomas was his patron saint, if you get my drift.
To be fair, my father came by his demons honestly at the hands of his own bitter, damaged father. My sincerest hope has always been to break the cycle handed down through the generations. I knew I would give my kids issues (I tell myself it’s impossible not to) but I didn’t want to pass on those issues— the drunkenness, debasement, and violence.
My own son really wants to be a dad, but fate has not favored him with children yet. Yesterday, on Father’s Day, he called me. He was lovely and thoughtful, but I could hear the wistfulness in his voice.
I wonder every day whether I have succeeded as a dad. I will always wonder. Such is the permanence of fatherhood. I hope that my boys will read something brighter and more loving than Dylan Thomas over me when I’m gone. Neither son has children yet, and I don’t know whether they carry the same anxiety about passing down generational trauma. They’re so much smarter and more well-adjusted than me. I’m optimistic that maybe the burden will not be as heavy.
The Road to Damascus is about fatherhood, how it changes everything, how it becomes your center and your focus, and how it is, ultimately, about letting go. Says the narrator, Paul, when he first becomes a father:
"And despite my considerable time in the world, I had no idea this kind of thing, this kind of love, existed. I mean, I thought I knew. I had been a kid with parents, after all, many times over. I had cared for many, many patients who were parents or children. I had seen the relationship in all its myriad variations.
None of my lives had prepared me for being a parent."
Paul struggles, as I have struggled, with the overwhelming love and responsibility that comes with being a parent. Fatherhood is not for the faint of heart. (I will not presume any understanding of motherhood, which seems an entirely different phenomenon.)
On this Father’s Day, I am grateful for the love of my children, but I do not miss my own father. Thinking of him accomplishes something, though: it steels my resolve to be a better dad.