Over Father’s Day Weekend, the radio program This American Life aired a show completely dedicated to stories about fathers and their unique – often awkward and misguided - ways of trying to connect with their children. One of the segments, an essay by comedian and writer Michael Ian Black, related the story of his father’s death when he was twelve - how he dealt with it then and how it affects him now that he has children of his own. It’s one of the most honest pieces about a parent’s death that I’ve ever heard. He reveals how his twelve year old self used his father’s death as an opportunity to get his mom to rent R-rated movies and to buy him sugary cereal. Following the funeral, he stood at the bus stop with his best friend, and for the first time in their lives, they couldn’t think of what to say to each other. He talks about how the presence of his own children has caused him to look back at what he can remember of his father, and to see those events from his father’s perspective, a man who didn’t know how to express what he should to his son.
I listened to that story, enjoying it immensely for its honesty and its humor, but also feeling a deep sense of envy. Black had twelve years with his father. He can remember interactions, details that he knows were true, the good points and the faults that intersected to make his father a tangible person. My mother passed away when I was three, so she’s more of an idea to me than a person. I don’t know any of her faults. When my family speaks of her, they speak only of what made her wonderful, which is completely understandable, but it make me wonder if I were to die before Violet were to really know me, what would she remember? Would she be able to fill in the blanks and shape me into a memory close to who I am? Would I want her to? I think I would. So, I’m leaving this note for her, to be opened in the event of my death:
Your father was a man who loved you very much.
He was honest, kind to everyone, and was a faithful husband.
His nose was too big and he was on the skinny side.
He died rescuing women and children from a burning hospital.
He had gotten out every last person, before he went back in for the kitten.
That’s when the roof collapsed.
Read the pieces from the This American Life episode here.
Listen to the episode here.