61: Father’s Day

61: Father’s Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Father’s Day

A father may turn his back on his child, brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies, husbands may desert their wives, wives their husbands. But a mother’s love endures through all.

~Washington Irving

There were loops and curves and long squiggly spirals; rings and letters and bow ties. The pile of uncooked pasta made a faint clicking sound as I sifted through it, searching for the very best pieces for my art project. I carefully dabbed glue onto each bit and attached it to the empty frozen–orange juice can I had brought from home. I tried to ensure that every last inch of the can was covered; ziti and macaroni protruded at jagged angles. When our masterpieces were finished they would be pen and pencil holders, and they would serve as Father’s Day gifts. Our teacher, Ms. Z., told us to leave our cans on sheets of newspaper at the back of the classroom. The projects would be spray painted gold after school and left out to dry overnight.

We put our glue bottles away and settled down at our desks to make Father’s Day cards. I picked up a crayon and stared at the piece of paper before me on the desk. On either side of me, my classmates were drawing pictures of their fathers: stick figures with scruffy hair and ties; smiling faces with and without beards; men holding baseball gloves or footballs. I chose, instead, to draw a spring scene. Smiley faces, rainbows, butterflies and a bright sun danced across my card. I folded it in half and wrote my message on the interior:

“To Mommy… Love Denise”

There wasn’t anything else I could write. I’d never met my father. I didn’t know his name or what he looked like. He had actively and consciously chosen to be completely absent from my life, although I would not be aware of that detail for years to come. When I was in the first grade, all I knew was that he didn’t exist for me. I was honestly fine with that, because I didn’t miss someone I didn’t know. I wasn’t thinking about the things I didn’t have; I was enjoying what was there. I had a mother and aunts and baby cousins; I had an uncle and a grandmother and a sweet German Shepherd dog named Cindy who liked to play catch. A few of my classmates lived with their grandparents; others had huge extended families. Some of my friends had siblings and others were only children, like me. One of my friends from dance school had a parent in the military who wasn’t home very often. I knew that there were all kinds of families out there and that mine was just one more possible permutation.

For me, addressing my Father’s Day card to my mother was simple logic: it was supposed to be a present for a parent, and my Mum certainly was one. Ms. Z didn’t get it, unfortunately. She was somewhat unsettled, and she questioned me about it. It was the first time I’d ever encountered a teacher who didn’t understand that I really meant it when I told her that I didn’t have a father, but it would not be the last. As I progressed through my school career, I would meet other teachers who were perplexed that my family configuration did not mesh with their expectations. They would ask why my blue emergency card — which listed family contact information — wasn’t completely filled out; why my Father’s Day cards were addressed to my mother; and why I didn’t talk about my father at all. Some of my classmates’ parents would sneer at my mother behind her back. I was occasionally upset that people felt the need to judge me, but for the most part, I took it in stride. I knew that if anyone had a problem with my family, it was their issue, not mine.

At that moment, though, in first grade, my concern was with my art project. Part of me fretted that Ms. Z. would throw it away. What if she decided that if I didn’t make a Father’s Day gift, I couldn’t make anything at all? I needn’t have worried. When I returned to school the next morning my work was still on the newspaper, right where I had left it. It had been spray-painted gold along with all the other cans; it was sticky and tacky and it still reeked of fumes.

I gave the presents to my mother as soon as I brought them home. Mum loved my card and gift, and she kept the pencil holder in her office. Whenever I visited her at work that summer I smiled to see it, shimmery and sparkling, on her dark desk.

~Denise Reich

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