Mary Potter: Finding my Father

Father’s Day celebrates the men who did their part. Not just biological dads, but those men who stuck around to see the job done proper.

For those of us whose fathers didn’t stick around, it is a day to wonder what our lives would have been like had they not gone away-gone away through death or divorce or an unquenchable wanderlust or just because they had no intention of being a father and excused themselves from the job.

My father went away six weeks after I was born. I only know him through family stories and my mother’s recollections. The older she got, the more those recollections took on the shape of a paperback romance. I know the bare facts. He was from Kentucky. She was from New Jersey. She knew he was dying when they met.

They married anyway. He died less than a year later, the day after her thirty first birthday. I can see her in my mind’s eye, with a baby in her arms, accepting his flag from the soldiers who came to conduct his funeral.

My dad was not one of the men who died on the Normandy Beach or slogging up the Anzio Road. He served on a ship in the Pacific Theatre. He came home, wounded so badly that he spent the rest of his short life in and out of veteran’s hospitals. He met my mother in one of those hospitals. They married when he was 25. He died at 26.

My dad wasn’t around for my first communion or my first words or any of my graduation ceremonies. He was there for me in pictures – a lanky man with a shock of black curly hair falling into his eyes dressed in sailor whites, with hands tucked in his navy pea jacket. He was there for me in stories told by his sister, my aunt, of the crazy things he did as a teenager, the cars he loved, the girls he dated, the things he enjoyed before he left Coalport Holler forever to go to war.

He bought my mom a house through the GI bill and sent me to college with his veteran education benefits. He wasn’t there to do it himself. But I like to think he approved.

My husband, Ivan, and I went to my father’s home in Knox County last weekend. We rode around Barbourville and went out to Dr. Thomas Walker State Park.

Then we drove through the town cemetery. I haven’t been there since I was a child. My mother loathed visiting his grave. She always said he wasn’t in that grave; it was just the place to put his body. So, my memories date from when my aunt would come from Detroit and take me with her to “decorate the grave”.

We walked the sections until we came upon his head and foot stones. They were as neat and beautiful as I remember them.

Father’s Day 2009 is special to me this year. I found my dad.

Happy Father’s Day and blessings to those fathers who could and did stick around.


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