Monday, April 17, 2006

Fatherhood on the Margin of Memory

My parents separated before I was three, and I have not a single memory of my family as an intact unit. Indeed, my father moved far away from my mother, brother and me before I was 5 years old, and I didn't see him for eight years.

Against this background of my parents' divorce and my divorce, my heart sank when my son, not quite a teen, told me he could not remember me living at home, with his mother and him. I moved out in 2002, when he was just past 8. Shmoikel knows me only at a distance, not the dad at home, but the dad on the phone, the dad with his other home.

Fortunately, I've worked hard to maintain a relationship. He may not remember me at the house, but he has a rich store of continual contact. I call every night, even if I'm on a date (what better way to show my solid parenting skills?), and maintain a clockwork-like visitation schedule.

Still, the sadness lingers, somewhere between a bruise and a shiv in my ribs. Surely my son benefits from growing up without the house full of marital tension, but couldn't I have broken the generational curse? I tell myself I've done that in my own way. He knows I love him and care -- a day doesn't go by without that, and our time together is full of hugs and private jokes. So I do the best I can.

And with a gentle reminder, I can bring memories of family time together to the surface. This weekend I mentioned Labor Day 1996, when the three of us went to a beach in Rhode Island. Schmoikel was barely two then, but fully capable of walking bareful on a splintery boardwalk -- and getting splinters in his little feet. We took him to a walk-in clinic to get them removed.

And you know what? He remembered.

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