Father’s Day was always a rough day for me. It served as a stark reminder of what life could have been like if he were still around. My mom told me stories of what he was like. “Short, a dry sense of humor…you know it’s hard to look at you sometimes because you look just like him,” she would say. When my brother was six and I was one, Egypt gradually became a hostile and unfit place to start a new family. When things seemed grim for our future, our parents decided it was best to move together to the land of opportunity so that my brother and I might be afforded the chance to pursue our dreams freely and that they might live vicariously through us. After casting our ticket, we were lucky enough to be given that chance and move to America. My dad was a chronic smoker. He died two weeks after hearing the good news.
In the hubris of my youth, I often blamed him for the less-than-average life my mom, brother, and I lived after we moved. Why did he have to choose cigarettes over us? Why did his family abandon and heckle us for wanting to continue what he started and move here? Why did mom have to pick up extra side jobs or extra hours to keeps us afloat? Why did Andrew have to play the father figure in my life? Why did I come back from school to an empty home with a meal in the fridge to eat alone for dinner?
I was never really sure how to answer people when they asked how I was celebrating Father’s Day or what my dad does for a living. Do I answer in the past or present tense? He was a high school math teacher; he is a high school math teacher. The latter option was safe. The former option could promote controversy. I usually opted for the latter answer because I was too afraid to not appear average.
When I grew up and came to college, smoking was a very casual thing among my circle of friends. I often get peer pressured into smoking to “let loose a little.” Before succumbing to the pressure I am reminded of the life I lived because of smoking, and then find any excuse not to. I remember those Father’s Days’ when I promised myself I would never smoke because I wanted to be there for my children when I grew up so that I might live vicariously through them. Perhaps to end the cycle of having others wish they lived a life other than their own.
It has been 20 years however, and I have forgiven him now. Life was likely rough for him growing up in a family that was inherently well off. Trying to not only make ends meet but make something of himself and make my mom, brother and I proud of the man he was. It still takes a toll on my mom every now and then. I would sometimes catch a glimpse from across the hall, her staring at the only wallet-sized portrait of him we have left. The door was usually closed but sometimes cracked open just a bit to see my teary-eyed mother miss her lifetime lover. She would sometimes catch me watching and wipe the sadness off her face away in hopes she would appear to have it all together.
My childhood was less-than-average but I am thankful I experienced both love and loss simultaneously while growing up. Father’s Day now is a momentous occasion, with a sit-down meal together. One of the few instances we are reminded of the sacrifices we have made for those sitting at the table and the sacrifices others have made for us. Laughter. Photos. Silence. Tears—of sadness…of joy. Happy—to be alive…to have each other.