Friday, August 1, 2008

Fathers and Daughters

I've often wondered what my father would have been like, if he had lived longer than his twenty-eight years. I take clues from what little I know about him.
He was the eighth of nine children. His father was a chimneysweep. He was born in Vaasa, as I was. It's a city on the west coast of Finland, about half way up. Officially that means we're Ostrobothnians, although I never really learned what that meant. I gather it's the region and is reflected in the dialect of Finnish we speak.
He was a good student, apparently, and decided to further his education, rather than follow in his father's footsteps. His oldest brother died when he was 19 or 20, and the remaining brother took over the chimneysweep business.
My father did his required military service and was headed to officer's school based on the recommendations of his seniors, when he begged someone to give a poor review of him to the man who would be making the decision. He did, surprising the man, and my father left the military after doing only the minimum required service of eight months.
He studied political science in college and had aspirations for local politics in his new country once he learned the language. He was working as a painter while he was learning English. It was then that he had the workplace accident that claimed his life. He was on contract with the Steel Plant and was on plant property in the back of a flatbed truck with some other men. The driver was being reckless and hit a pole. My father was thrown from the truck. He had massive internal injuries, had to have surgery four times in a month, finally went into a coma, and died of an overwhelming infection. The accident occurred on July 4th and he died on August 31st. I think my mom still has the newspaper clippings from the accident.
Regarding his political aspirations, I think we would have landed on opposite ends of the spectrum. He probably would have been NDP (socialist), while I am conservative. That would've been interesting.
I'm told he had an interest in history and politics, so in that way I'm my father's daughter. He also had a sense of humour and my mom said he'd stand on a chair to recite poetry to her, especially when she was angry, and he wanted to diffuse her anger. We also have a watercolour painting he did. I have no artistic talent whatsoever.
I wonder how he would have been about my husband being Jamaican. My mom says he would have been fine; that he had once written a paper against racism. I hope that's true.
I wish I had something he had written, so I could get a sense of his opinions and his writing style.
We had a family tree that he had started, and on it, he left a blank next to me, I guess, expecting a third child one day; a son, perhaps?
I grew up in a house of women. We cut the grass and shovelled snow.
But I miss not having a father. I don't think I even know how much I missed. At key times, though, like my graduation, or wedding day, the births of our children, or what would have been his 50th birthday or my parents' anniversary, I think of how our lives would have been different if he had lived.
Any time I see a movie that has a touching moment between a father and daughter, I lose it. Even that super-sappy song, Butterfly Kisses, that was popular a few years ago, made me cry on the part about her wedding day. Every time.
The modern thinking is to call any permutation of the nuclear family, a family. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I think of the old way of referring to it as a broken family, to be more accurate. We were a complete family, but we were broken by death. My husband's family was broken by divorce. And while our Moms did the best they could for us, one parent just cannot be all that two parents are. We both missed so much without a father.
When I was growing up, I loved being at friends' homes, especially ones that had both parents. I remember thinking, "This is what I want." I've been blessed to have that.
When my husband had cancer ten years ago, our girls were young. I was afraid history was repeating itself and I was going to be a young widow with two girls, like my mom. I didn't want that for my girls.
But God spared him, and us, and life has been good.
When my daughter was away at camp, another kid asked her, "Do you live with your mom or your dad?" She said, "My parents are still married." Most of them came from single-parent families.
Although they pretend to be grossed out if they see us kissing, I know that deep down they appreciate that they have parents who love each other, and who are here for them.

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