Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Retrospect: Father's Day

We had a very busy Friday. Followed by a very busy Saturday. By the time I fell into bed Saturday night, I could feel the exhaustion in my teeth. Father's Day found me completely unprepared to adequately honor any of the fathers in my life. I didn't plan for breakfast in bed, I didn't make a banner (or even a card), and the contents of my fridge - carrots, eggs, ketchup, an almost-raisins cluster of grapes - could not be coaxed together into a meal if the queen were coming to dinner. I felt like a zero. This wasn't the first time I'd really blown a holiday. If you'll allow me to share a snippet from my personal file - this is a letter I wrote to my husband, Nate, two years ago, after a very anticlimactic birthday (his). I re-read it this afternoon - it helped restore my gratitude for the steady goodness of everyday life - and take a miffed holiday in stride. I hope the essence resonates with some of you...

Dear Nate,

(Sigh!) We hashed it out last night; you were there. Holidays are pressure-packed and expectation-laden almost to the point of becoming unenjoyable. Does everyone feel this way, or are we uniquely curmudgeonous and unimaginative? I'm not sure, but May really packs the pressure-punch -- between Mother's Day, your birthday and our anniversary, we can hardly keep up with the imposed expectations for pomp -- the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfectly penned letter of affection. It's all very demanding.

And I know I'm probably looking at it entirely wrong, but it's a little deflating to sit down and think about how to make your day special and end up feeling like I don't know you very well. After all these years! For example, I'd be hard pressed to name your favorite candy; do you even like candy? Favorite meal? I was shocked when you said you'd enjoy a "really good salad" for your birthday dinner. (Especially after you'd chosen oatmeal for your birthday breakfast,) I could've sat and guessed for a hundred years and I never would have come up with salad for your preferred celebratory meal. And gifts? Even if I could posit correctly about your birthday desires, the fact that those desires are sold at places like "Play It Again Sports" and Vanguard Financial (is that where one would go to purchase an I-Bond?) is so intimidating to me that I'd rather just send you out with some spending money and time to browse.

All this, dearest, is to say that there is a lot that I feel unsure of when it comes to celebrations and special days. A lot that I'm lousy at. And a lot that I don't know. But on every other day, I am absolutely certain about some things. Important things.

I'm certain that you're going to wake up to the alarm you've set, and while I slumber away in the dimness of dawn, you're going to shower, shave, dress, eat, read, gather your lunch of leftovers. And then you're going to return to our less-dim room and, (time permitting,) lean over the edge of our bed and give my left cheek a few gentle strokes and ask how I'm feeling, before you kiss my lips with yours freshly-shaven, and bid me farewell for the day. And I'm going to try really hard to be a gracious recipient of those strokes and kisses, (resisting the instinct to respond grumpily, as I'm often prone to do in the first minutes of the morning,) because even though I may not be overly demonstrative about how much I love that part of the day, I really, really do (love it.) And I wake up just a little hollow and confused on time-crunched days when I realize that you've had to hurry out the door without that tender exchange.

I'm also certain that, (barring any unforeseen tragedy or extreme weather,) you're going to come home to me every night. And that I won't have to wonder anxiously over your where-abouts because, if you'll forgive the hash metaphors, we're like sharp cheese and crisp apples, bright stars and night's pitch, innumerable sand and the ever-rolling sea -- we go together.

I know that you're going to call on your way home to tell me that you're coming, because, well...that's just what you do. And because you know that I like to know when to start dinner.

And that the next time we fight, you're going to be ready to bury the hatchet like nine hours before I am because you're better about that kind of thing than I am.

And I know that the next time I read you something I've written, you're going to tell me it's "one of the best things you've ever heard" and that you think I'm a "phenomenal" (or some other, overly-generous adjective) writer.

I know that my heart and all of my secrets will always be safe with you.

I know that Henry has a steady, refined, gentle example of manhood and fatherhood in you.

(I wrote this just a few months before I had Lily). And that when we have this little girl, you're going to be there. And love me. And love her. And that even if that post-partom time is the hardest, most relationship-neglectful time we'll ever face in our marriage, we're going to come through it. And love each other. 'Cause we did last time.

And that even if we drop the ball on Mother's Day and miss the mark on birthdays and underwhelm each other every year on our anniversary, it's okay. Because our regular days are steady and good, and there's no fundamental daily lack that needs to be compensated for with pompous fuss on a few culturally/calendar-ly dictated dates. (All that's not to say that our celebratory ways couldn't stand a little improvement. They could. And we should try.)

There's one last thing that I'm certain of that I hope will, in part, make up for the fact that you bought your own gift this year and didn't wake up to balloons and crepe paper this morning...

I love you.

My heart squeezes. And thumps. And overflows for you.

Thank you for making it so,


I hope your Father's Day was magical. But if it wasn't - I hope you forgave yourself and got right back to appreciating the sweetness in the day-to-day of life.


Ginna said...

that letter is so lovely. it really resonated with me, thanks for sharing.

bjahlstrom said...

How gorgeously written!

Mickie and Matt said...

Amen! As I flick tears off my cheeks.

My husband and I run into that same thing every May and June now if only I could write like you and just give him a letter instead of trying to find the "perfect" gift for our anniversary and his birthday.

Kerry said...

This is so beautiful and so very spot on. It's almost as if you have a window into my life. Even down to the Henry! Thank you for sharing this very personal peek at your life. It certainly gives me comfort to know that I am in good company!

Megan said...

There are definite advantages to having set days to celebrate or honor an individual or a group of people. It reminds me to make sure I've been showing them my love and gratitude. NOw don't take that to mean that I worry about things like crepe paper and balloons, because that's not how you honor someone. Our Father's Day was as low key as yours. Any reason that it was more than that was because at 1:30 we were invited over for family dinner by my inlaws. Your letter was sweet and honest and that is one of the best gifts someone can give to another. Thank you for sharing.

The Mrs. said...

That was a beautiful letter. I love how personal it was and it gave a glimpse into a not so perfect life which makes it....perfect!


Joan said...

I think I remember reading this on your blog once? I enjoyed it just the same a second time.
You really, truly are a lovely writer, Em. Hearts.

Natalie said...

Em, I just had to laugh, cry, and nod my head in agreement. Just like you were here on my couch again! Love you!

Em said...

Wow, this really spoke to me too, my husband and I secretly dread holidays sometimes because of all the expectations. I agree, it's all the other "regular" days that matter most at the end of the day. Thanks for sharing this.