This is me and my father.
It looks like he is sitting in my lap, but actually he is sitting on a chair, and I am kneeling beside him. We were all of us there, my six brothers and sisters, for his 93rd birthday. We ordered pizza (it’s the birthday dinner he chooses every year) and then brought out the cake. Dad sat down, we put a crazy crown on his head and everybody started snapping pictures. After a while, we took turns having our picture taken with the Patriarch. I knelt down by his throne and my sister-in-law Kay took this picture.
I love my father because he first loved me.
As a father myself I can tell you, it is scary how much power fathers have—power to uplift and encourage, power to name and to own, power to forgive and bless, power to love. Mostly we fathers know this power in its lack. We have not done those things for our children, not near so mightily as we might have. There is not a father without regret, which is why so many of us are distant from the people we love. Regret, when it turns to shame, steps out the back door.
I know my father has his regrets, but he didn’t stay out back. He came inside and said (without saying anything as fathers are wont to do), When I was young I was too busy to be here for you, too worried about paying the bills and saving for your college so you could come home and tell me how smart you were and how little I knew. I fought over who was right and who was wrong. I gave unwanted advice, watched you leave home and hoped you’d reap what you sowed. But now that all seems like another life lived by another man. It’s hard to remember why it all mattered so. Now, if you’ll have me, I want to be your father.
Ernest Hemingway told a story about a Spanish father at a moment like this who wanted to reconcile with his son who had run away to Madrid. The father placed an ad in the El Liberal newspaper: “PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA.” Paco is a common name in Spain, and when the father showed up at noon there were 800 Pacos looking for their all-forgiving Papa.
I have other, better pictures of my Dad and me, but I think I will always hold on to this one, even though the light is yellow, and it is not a “good” picture of either him or me. It is a great portrait of a son and the father he hopes to become.