Wednesday, July 18, 2007
My Father's Grave ...
Children need the ones they love to love each other.
A family is like a strong tower. It protects and nurtures kids, makes them feel both loved and lovable. It teaches little boys how to love a woman because they see their dad loving their mom. It teaches daughters how to care for a husband and family ... and how to be treated by a man ... because they see mom and dad being loving with each other.
I talk about it on WoodSongs virtually every show. Moms and dads and families have got to find a way to stick together and make that family work.
Divorce affects a child much like the planes that slammed into the World Trade Towers. The damage is more severe than first observed. It burns their very soul - from the inside out. The horror is progressive, unyielding and moves onward beyond the observation of those who caused the injury. And eventually, often when the child is now an adult, the internal foundations that make them a whole person come crashing down into a massive pile of rubble.
My mom and dad didn't love each other. He was dying of cancer, they were separated and, five days before I was born, my dad died. The families polarized, didn't speak to one another and my mom quickly abandoned my father's side of the family after the funeral, ran off and remarried ten months later.
My mom and stepfather didn't love each other, either. And I grew up hiding my brother and sister under beds at night during huge and often violent arguments.
I didn't know about my real father till I was 12, during one of those wall-smashing fights. I didn't carry his name, I knew nothing about him. Who was this man? Who was this mysterious new father? And who on earth was this guy I thought was my dad all this time? I wasn't allowed to ask, so I let it go.
I stayed silent for several years and just lived my life. I have learned that kids who grow up like this often gravitate to the very drama and unhealthy personalities they desperately want to flee from. And the planes that crashed into me as a kid burned. And my towers fell and my first marriage ended in rubble. When my second marriage failed, very much against my hope and will, I went on a search for my real dad and his family.
I recently found my cousin Laddie, who as a young boy was very close to my dad. He has given me a wealth of photos and newspaper clippings and told me many stories that helped get to know my father better. And he showed me a copy of the family tree that listed all the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles of my dad's family.
And when you come to the line of my dad and mom, to the part about me, there is simply a question mark and a note that says "... name and location unknown."
Wow. It wasn't intended to be that way, I know. But all I ended up being in my dad's life was a "question mark."
Laddie and his lovely wife, who have been very kind and supportive, took me to my father's grave for the very first time a couple of weekends ago. As we walked through the green grass past the headstones of hundreds of people in the cemetery in Forest Hills, NY my cousin finally pointed and said, "There, Michael. There's your dad."
This was the closest I have ever been to my father. I was six feet away from being able to hold his hand and hear his voice and watch his eyes as he spoke to me. And I knelt over the grave and ran my fingers across his name on the family headstone. And every image of every fight and every moment of confusion and desperate thoughts of wondering who I was and where did I fit and how much I completely needed this man crashed into me again.
MichaelB was with me, and Laddie took a photo of my Dad and his grandson at his grave (my dad's name is on the lower right of the stone, next to MichaelB.)
And everyone left and gave me a moment alone with my Dad. It was very hard and very emotional. And as I knelt down I took an oak leaf laying on the grass atop his grave as a keepsake of the moment and said my farewell. The wishful images of my dad playing baseball with me the way I play catch with my own son flashed through my head. The dream of my dad scuffing up the hair of my head with approval over something completely stupid I accomplished, the way I do for MichaelB, danced across my eyes.
My heart was very heavy for my own children. I don't want those emotional planes burning inside their hearts, too. They deserve, need, so much better. And as I walked away from my father, I was left wondering how different my life might have been if only the people I loved would have loved each other.