Finding Your Father in Yourself

It was a strange meeting, but there was a symmetry to the event. A circle closed, like the earth coming round the sun for a new try at the thing called a day. The father coming round the son, too.

How could he? My dad died 19 years ago.

Death is a vanishing, an evaporation of substantiality, an empty place. I no more see my author as a breathing, touchable creature looking back at me. He won’t tap on the bottom of the always necessary ketchup bottle at supper. Milt Stein’s eyes will never sparkle delivering jokes he can’t tell, nor a rare tear reappear for a last bow.

So I thought, until he showed up on Father’s Day, 2019. A strange meeting, as I said.

Shopping with my wife I spotted a set of adhesive, black, cloth mustaches hanging from a shelf.

“Buy me,” the product whispered. Little persuasion was necessary. I figured my eldest grandson would get a cheap boost of happiness. The pint-sized person is easy to please just by showing up. His smile alone juices my serotonin, too. Market this small man if you can and he’ll replace antidepressants.

When we arrived at his home two days later I grabbed W, who reminds me often he is “a big boy.” My little descendant is almost four and, indeed, sizeable for his age. An outgoing spirit who loves to laugh and read, with a specialty in all things dinosaur. A strong personality like his mom.

“I got you something, W.” The lad couldn’t wait. The fake facial accessories were opened right away. The largest attached to my grandson’s upper lip, another clung to my own.

My youngest daughter photographed us. A baseball cap covered my broad expanse of scalp. The picture of me was not me, however.

A revenant appeared, a ghost. Did you hear the door creak? My father snuck in and emerged from the pixels.

More snapshots got taken with my grandson. My wife, daughters, and brothers all remember dad. They concurred in my transformed likeness.

“Rain or Shine” Milt Stein was present. Here was a man who claimed fame for pitching every day, the make-believe star hurler of the Chicago Cubs. Here materialized the indefatigable and reliable husband and sire he made himself into.

The family joke-of-a-story never failed to amuse us. Had my wife and I created a male child instead of our wonderful girls, we intended to name him Rainer. The old man knew our plans.

I wear baseball caps a lot, but the addition of the facial, felt, fakery did its magic. Dark mustache added, baldness subtracted, I was he. That and no longer being the younger man I look like to myself most of the time. Research suggests we begin to think of ourselves as 15 years below our step on the chronology ladder once we land on the rung marked “Middle Age.”

Unlike me — his oldest son — dad retained a decent head of hair all his life. Somewhere near 60 padre added to his masculinity with a mustache. I must have asked him why, but don’t recall the answer.

The additional hair favored him, so he displayed himself to the world this way for the last 30 years or so of his life. His three boys, Ed, Jack, and I, remember him in this post-prime, but still genuine version.

I now live with my father, I suppose. OK, we all do, but I mean in a new way. He is nearby externally as well as inside. With a few adornments I am a visible reincarnation of him.

Perhaps I’ll go out and acquire several more top lip appendages for those moments I wish my father close-at-hand again. I’d stand before the mirror, of course.

If I have the urge to reach forward the whole enterprise would collapse. Too full of unfulfilled emotion, something life inevitably acquaints us with. But if I could peer straight ahead, smile, and sense a bit of the warmth and love he brought me, then … well, then …

Fill in the blanks however you desire. Maybe your experience would be different. Anyway, this Father’s Day was memorable and surprising.

Go shopping. Buy whatever speaks to you. Bring a camera. You never know who you will meet when you get home.

——-

The top photo of Jeanette and Milton Stein was taken around 1990, the year of their 50th wedding anniversary.

19 thoughts on “Finding Your Father in Yourself

  1. What a wonderful, special photo, and essay!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those are the cutest photos, Dr. S! Your father sounds like a good man. I am so sorry for your loss many years ago, however.

    My father was not the healthiest, but I still loved him and missed him when he passed away. I was 18 when my father passed. My internalizations of him were more bitter than sweet, though as a woman I cannot see my father in me because I do not want to.

    I suppose those with good fathers (and mothers) internalize and see the good instilled in them from their parents. That is an awesome thing!

    You have a beautiful family, Dr. S. Your family photos show so much beauty and love!

    Like

  3. What a cool read for a summer Saturday. I like the imagery and I like the absolute joy you take in “W”. And, best of all, I like your to the point directions:

    Go shopping. Buy whatever speaks to you. Bring a camera. You never know who you will meet when you get home.

    I think I’ll put that on my refrigerator!

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  4. An unexpected little noise, or a shadow passing by. “Oh, there he is in the room with me.” And, I smile.

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  5. I loved this Dr. Stein….and it made me weep in remembering my own selfless dad. I have found that his presence and guidance is never far away. What a blessing…thanks for helping me remember.. Jeff….Janet H’s husband… and Wayne’s son.

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    • Thanks, Jeff. Your dad sounds worthy of your admiration. By the way, I did know your name, but I’m glad you added the connections. Best to you and one of the best women and friends in anyone’s world, Janet.

      Like

  6. You are adorable, Dr. Stein.

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    • You are adorable for saying so, Nancy. I’ll have to keep your quote handy for any doubters I encounter, including members of my family!

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  7. Indeed, Dr. Stein, I didn’t recognize you in the photo. A happy belated Father’s Day 🙂

    As a daughter, I’ve never considered that I may also resemble my father. Then, one day, some years ago, I looked in the mirror and saw my father look back at me. It was an uncanny experience!

    Like

  8. drgeraldstein

    Thank you, Rosaliene. More surprises to come to both of us, I’m sure.

    Like

  9. I enjoyed reading this, and seeing the images. 🙂

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  10. drgeraldstein

    Thank you, Rayne.

    Like

  11. Weeks or months later, I revisit your post, Dr. S. Admittedly, I am a little jealous – not of you, but rather of the dream of having parents like the good models you have shown us dear readers. I am happy for everyone else when I hear good tales of good parenting, but saddened at my own reflections on life – a longing that never dissipates or quells, no matter how much I self-care and self-love. My grief remains long after childhood, yet I am filled with some hope whenever I see good parenting happening. I know that the world is a mix of mostly good, mostly trial-and-error mistakes, and few bad.

    Seeing my father in myself is the scariest thing I can imagine. It is or was the reason for my dissociation in the first place. My fragmented self comprising layers of masks that hid my internalized father while manifesting the fears of what he did and did not do are still there long after integration. Fusion, the process for which a multiple becomes a singleton when alters are not only recognized as self, but are also blended with the self as one single identity, layer by layer, requires looking at internalizations of both good and bad parental models.

    I feared becoming like my dad. I feared distancing myself from him. I missed him when he passed away, despite all the pain I felt when he was alive. I wanted to love him and for him to love me, and I suppose he did in his own unique and sometimes noxious way. But I do not feel love in the sense that normies do. I feel obligation, trapped, hindered, subdued, caged, imprisoned, and lifeless. I feel obligated to perform, not cherished for who I am. I feel trapped in his smothering. I feel imprisoned by his thoughts internalized in mine. And the list goes on.

    When Father’s Day nears, I cringe and cry, or sometimes I pretend it does not exist. It hurts, and it reminds me of what I never had.

    Concerning my own daughter, it hurts her, insofar as transgenerational grief trauma and my own separation from her and her dad burdened her indirectly and directly with my pain of fatherhood. Motherhood and single parenting meant that one has to be ambidextrous, and I could not live up to that challenge, even though I was the one who broke up with my ex and initially tried motherhood.

    Like my own mother did to her previous children, I gave my daughter up for adoption – but for a different reason. I wanted my daughter’s childhood to be better than what I alone could have provided her. Nevertheless, I am haunted by my past and my guilt, my own father and mother inside.

    Integrating that pain to truly appreciating others’ pleasure is tough.

    Like

    • Not one of us gets through life without causing injury to ourself and to others. The best we can do is minimize these events and still have a life worth living. The Buddhists say a great deal about suffering being baked into what it means to be a human being. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are both challenging “celebrations” for many, both those who had good parents and those who didn’t. Your writings on this site suggest to me that you are not your father’s double — far from it.

      Liked by 1 person

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