by Chris de Serres
“Old man, look at my life, i’m a lot like you.”
– Neil Young
I never knew either of them. One died when my mother was still a child. She has one picture of him and really no memories of him to call her own. The other wasn’t particularly liked by my father. He didn’t like the way he treated my grandmother. He never really went out of his way to introduce us to him.
So I don’t really know how it feels to have a relationship with a grandfather. When my daughter was born I wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea to cultivate a relationship between her and my father. I have very good reasons to never speak to my father ever again. Good reasons to keep my daughter away.
Yet, I didn’t want to be like him. Making this choice for me. I wanted my daughter to know she had grandparents. To see them. To learn from them. I also wanted to give my father the opportunity to be what he never was to me. A presence.
I didn’t really know much about him. He was always working or checking out in front of the TV. What us kids got was the crumbs underneath the couch. A small amount of isolated moments of him. We didn’t have a real relationship though. What little I did have was poisoned by his actions.
I can never see him untarnished. He took care of us financially. Made sure we never lacked in what we needed. He worked hard his entire life and did what he had to do.
But that’s all he ever did.
I would like to think that he was an exception not the rule. That fathers, in general, are available to their children. Yet, I know many fathers like mine. They work and check out. So driven to distraction by alcohol, work, or any outlet that doesn’t include their children.
It’s hard to watch. I never had an opportunity to have that relationship with him. We never played catch. He never went to any of my games. We didn’t have mutual interests. He never really bothered to be involved in that. There are times in childhood when I struggled and all I needed was my dad to offer some guidance. To help dig me out of a hole.
This story is so familiar it’s almost a cliche amongst us men. Amongst women too.
It won’t be too long now. Dad hasn’t been feeling well for a while, and it will only get worse. So my daughter spends time with him. She knows something about him. She has this vision of grandad that she can draw from. He has changed, from the great unknowable and distant dad to a granddad who wants to be known while time is short. I could have let my anger and hate shut this door, but what would that make me?