The Starfish Card

Ties, hiking socks, a beaded necklace (it was the 70’s), handkerchiefs, crafty ashtrays and macaroni frames. These were the Father’s Day gifts my father received x5 once a year. (I don’t remember any special food, though he did get a spice cake for his birthday and on Thanksgiving my mother would make him a mincemeat pie.) We never did anything special, no breakfast in bed or trip to a hardware store. He would either stay home or go off hiking with the dogs, (truly, I can’t recall). There was no activity that he shared with any of his daughters, that I can think of, that he would actually “want” to do that would include us. It was a day where we gave him the gift we made in class or bought with our allowance earned from weeding and cleaning. Maybe we’d have Brussels sprouts, one of his favorite vegetables, or tin roof sundaes with vanilla ice cream, peanuts and Hershey’s chocolate syrup, but my memory of those celebrations are fuzzy, with the exception of one.

Doors slamming, my mother yelling at my father to stop. A slap, a shove, fingers in my shoulders, pairs of hiking socks thrown, a pot of oily, lukewarm water puddling on the kitchen floor, while one sister and I hiccuped our sobs. My two younger sisters and I had spent the day literally frolicking around the woods with friends without a thought to our father. We missed a spaghetti dinner. We didn’t think he’d notice or even care. He did. We were “ungrateful.” We were “indifferent” to his feelings.

In later years memories would include listening to Joan Armatrading during a New Mexico sunset, sitting on camp stools smelling the smoke from his pipe mingle with my cigarette as we sipped on our Chivas, not speaking, trading cassette tapes; The Weavers, We Five, Simon and Garfunkel, going to an Arlo Guthrie concert. These were rare moments that I spent with him. I know my youngest sister doesn’t have one memory of sharing an activity with him except for a Christmas run to the mall, but that is her story to tell.

I spent Saturday at Tanglewood listening to Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls under a Berkshires sunset with my wife. Father’s Day weekend is hard for both of us. She lost her father on Father’s Day in 1987. He was her pal, her hero. We sat swallowing around the lump of another Father’s Day stuck in our throats.

Recent memories include sitting on a couch watching him glance at me with distrust and disgust, yelling at him in a restaurant in a scold, telling him to take a shower, ducking another insult, waiting for the email that never comes, the compliment that would help mend my self-esteem. All my sisters and I await the “How are you?” that never gets asked.

I stood standing at the CVS last week, browsing the card section for a Father’s Day card. My sister and I joke about what a Herculean task this is. I read “Thanks to the #1 Dad!” “You have always been there for me Dad—Thanks!” “You taught me to believe in myself Dad!” “You are the Tops Pops!”

I settle for the blank card that says everything and nothing.

©2017 J.L. Jasper All rights reserved.

One comment

  1. What a heart breaking story, yet so powerful in the telling. I feel the strength, the heartache, and the healing in your words. Thank you for your bravery and for sharing your stories.

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