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Monday, June 18, 2001

Since Father's Day was yesterday, any inclination to sentimentalize should have passed ... like gas. (And how's that for unsentimental?)

Still, if I don't look at my relationship with my father through a rosy haze, it'll come out all wrong. Most of the time we were not each other's biggest fans. How two people related so closely could have as little in common is one of those puzzles with no logical solution. It is what it is.

Let me get this out of the way: we didn't hate each other, although at times each of us was angry enough to say it, in exactly those words. "I hate him." I don't know for sure if he ever heard me say it. I don't think he ever knew that I'd heard him say it. But I did, and the cold feeling that shivered through my bones took a long time to get past.

Sometimes I pitied him. I thought I was smarter than he was. I thought he was too ignorant to talk about issues and events in the news. No argument could make the slightest dent in the armor of prejudice that isolated him from anyone who didn't think (and look) the way he did.

I know for sure he never understood me.

But I never gave him much of a chance. I gave up on him when I was a teenager, and we maintained a guarded truce for the rest of his life. Subjects I decided were off limits were never discussed, or were steered away from. For years we were strangers, living in the same house. Later we were acquaintances thrown together by family obligations.

As he lay dying fourteen years ago, he softened. Melted into a puddle of emotion, is what he did. In his last days he was a child again, on the Iowa farm where he grew up. Everyone encouraged me to make peace with him, but I didn't have the words. I couldn't tell him that I loved him.

We'd been strangers for too long. Or so I thought.

Mom told me how proud he'd been of me when I went off to college. How much he looked forward to my weekly phone calls home. It seemed like someone else she was talking about. Someone I didn't know. Not my father, but the father I wanted.

the back of my garden

It would be easy to regret not trying harder to get to know him, all those years. But looking back, I can't see how anything could have been different. I think I handled my part of the relationship the best I could. Wishing he'd been more open is an exercise in futility.

I do regret not telling him on his deathbed that I loved him. It was my last chance to give him what I always wanted him to give me. I was 37 and should have know that by then.

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