Retrospective: Understanding My Father

by Genevieve

Known as John Holmes, Holmsie or Johnnie to relatives and friends, my Father was nonexistent to me throughout my childhood. Memories of him are vague. He only wanted one child and was not pleased that Mom was pregnant with me. He ignored me much of the time unless he was shouting at me or punishing me for misbehavior. It is hard to admit that I didn’t like my Father.

Actually, my mother raised my Sister and me as Dad was rarely at home. He was aDad’s Model T steelworker during the day and spent evenings and weekends tending his crops on his family’s farm. When he was at home, he was drunk and bad-tempered. With an invisible husband, she was responsible for disciplining and nurturing us.

I avoided contact with him as much as possible.

He was a good provider (even on his meager salary of $5K per year). If Mom sent my Sister and me away from the dinner table for misbehaving, Dad brought food to our room so that we wouldn’t be hungry. Other than that, he never showed much emotion.

In retrospect, I don’t think that Dad ever learned how to love. His German parents were emotionally very cold. His Mother took the children to the hollow when they misbehaved and held a knife to their throats – how could this extreme trauma not have a lasting effect on an individual and future parent?

I didn’t see my Father as a human being and had no feelings for him until I became an adult. When I was at home from college, Dad took me to his local haunt, and we drank beer and talked. He proudly introduced me to his friends as his daughter. We spent a lot of time sitting on the front porch getting to know each other.

I started to accept him for who he was recognizing that his childhood was not very pleasant. He could not give something that he did not have. I know now that he did the best that he could with what he had learned as a child.

I do remember a few moving things that Dad did for me. He gave me one of the canes that he carved from elm trees for his boss to sell in England. I was really touched. After I moved to Arizona, I mentioned that I would like to have a bookcase for my apartment. My parents visited me, and Dad took measurements for the bookcase. He built a bookcase that separated my living room and kitchen. It was awesome that he measured, cut the boards and shipped them to me. My landlord installed it.  

When my Father died, I went to the funeral home. I saw him lying in the casket and broke into hysterical tears. If I just had another chance to at least tell him that I loved him. Mom straightened his tie and kissed him on the forehead. At that moment, I understood the true meaning of love.  

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