This is my fourth Father's Day without Dad. I'm still not really adjusted to it, and doubt that I ever will be.
Dad was always incredibly difficult to shop for, but incredibly easy to please. Dad came from a generation that had relatively little, growing up as he did in the tail end of the Depression (Dad was born in 1932 in rural northwest Georgia--not an affluent part of the country in the best of times). As a result, he was one of those people who never really wanted or expected anything from others, and would never tell anyone what he really wanted for his birthday or for Father's Day or for Christmas. With sufficient cajoling, he would furnish a terse list of possible gifts... a list that always included mundane necessities like "disposable razors" or "a can of coffee" or "socks." If Dad ever truly desired a gift, we never knew about it. When Mom was still with us, she was pretty good about ferreting out a gift idea or two--but even she admitted that Dad was relatively uncooperative as far as gifts were concerned,a nd I can recall many times when she was as stymied as we were.
At the same time, Dad was grateful for every gift he received. A CD of music by someone he once enjoyed, a VHS tape (and later, a DVD) of a film featuring an old Western star he remembered from his childhood, a bag of sugar-free chocolate candy that Dad had never previously sampled... each of them would elicit a wide-eyed look, then a beaming smile, then a satisfied chuckle, usually followed by a soft-spoken, "This is wonderful, but you didn't have to get me anything." And when Dad said it, he meant it.
The thing is, we really wanted to give Dad things. I think that Kim and Susan and I always hoped we'd find just the right gift, the surprise that would truly make the holiday for Dad. I've begun to understand over the past few years, though, that there really wasn't any such gift.
The closest I came to understanding Dad's outlook towards gifts came in late 2004, three Christmases before Dad left us. That was the last Christmas when Dad seemed to fully embrace his love of the season, the last Christmas when he seemed self-assured and confident and as happy as he could be without Mom beside him. I was trying to get a list of potential Christmas gifts, since neither Kim nor I had any real gift ideas. "I don't really want anything," Dad said. "I've got everything I want and a lot more. Anything anyone gets me is fine, because it's something that they thought I would want. It's enough to know that they wanted to give me something." And he wasn't just talking--he truly meant it. Dad was touched to know that his friends and his family cared enough to try to find the right gift for him, to choose items tailored for his tastes and interests and needs. Coffee, socks, razors, a $6 shirt from the Belk's sale table, an unexpected lunch with the family... he loved them all, because he really, truly didn't want anything other than to know he was loved and that people cared enough to try to find a gift for him.
I can see Dad's point more clearly now. I think that, as we grow older, the importance of the gift becomes subordinate to the importance of the gift-giving. We appreciate it when someone cares enough to actually give us a gift that they thought we would like, because it means that we were important enough that someone went to some trouble, inconvenienced their own life just a little to show that they cared. Just as email largely supplanted the handwritten letter, so has a Facebook greeting replaced the birthday card and/or gift for most people. And that makes it all the more meaningful when someone goes to the rouble of finding a gift or delivering a card or sharing a meal. It says, "you matter enough for me to do something I don't normally do."
Dad never expected anyone to do anything to celebrate his birthday, which is why he was always so touched when someone did. The same for Father's Day; Dad really meant it when he said that no one had to go to any trouble to come by or to bring him a gift. And that was why he was all the more touched when we did.
I loved Dad when he was with us, and I love him now even though he's not. I miss him terribly; sometimes I miss him so bad that I feel a yearning ache to hear that appreciative chuckle one more time, to hear his mellow, resonant voice say "hello dere!" again, to her him reply "just wonderful!" when someone asks how he's doing. I long to hear the stories of his time in the service once more, to hear about his childhood, to hear him share the little details of his life again.
Today I pulled out some of the family photos and remembered the stories that Dad would tell us. I remembered the happy times, the family gatherings, the shared meals, the laughs, the stories--and I missed Dad a lot.
I wish I could give Dad one more gift, take him out for one more meal.
I miss you, Dad. More than you could ever know.