Sunday, June 16, 2013

For Dad on Father’s Day

My birth father was a violent, unpredictable man. After he and my mother finally divorced, the last thing any of us kids wanted was another man around. So when Mother remarried, we weren’t the most welcoming to our stepfather. But he won us over with his quiet steady caring, his reliable responsibility, and his willingness to take on all five of us, to become Little League coach and Scout leader. Eventually we were calling him “Dad.”

Mother died first. Years later, when Dad was facing a protracted end due to cancer and had to be in a nursing home in a town where none of us kids lived any longer, my sister and I divided the week between us to go stay in that town and spend each day with him, our brothers pitching in when they could. When Dad’s end was near, my sister called, and I packed my kids in the car and drove like a drag racer to make it to that town in time. We all did. Dad died in my arms and my sister’s while the boys all stood around him as close as they could get. Afterward, one of the nursing-home aides said to me, “Surely, that man was loved!”

This poem is for Dad on Father's Day.


You and Dad were entirely happy here—

you in purple miniskirt, white vest and tights

(you always wore what was already too young

for me), Dad in purple striped pants,

a Kansas State newsboy’s cap

made for a bigger man’s head.

You both held Wildcat flags and megaphones

to cheer the football team who,

like the rest of the college, despised you

middle-aged townies, arranging for their penicillin

and pregnancy tests and selling them

cameras and stereos at deep discount.

But you were happy

in this picture, before they found

oat-cells in your lungs.

After the verdict, he took you to Disneyland,

this man who married you and your five children

when I was fifteen. He took you cross-country

to visit your family, unseen

since your messy divorce.

He took you to St. Louis

and Six Flags Over Texas and to Topeka

for radiation treatments.

I don’t think he ever believed

you could die. Now he’s going

the same way. And none of us

live in that Wildcat town with the man

who earned his “Dad” the hard way

from suspicious kids and nursed

your last days. For me, this new dying

brings back yours, leaving me only this image

of you both cheering for lucky winners.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)



  1. You do it very time-touch the heart, and bring tears to eyes.

  2. Oh, Lil, you're so very kind! Glad you liked it.

  3. I wanted to respond yesterday but was too teary-eyed to manage it. Your story is proof that there are heroes everywhere, and most of them are NOT Nobel Peace Prize winners - they are ordinary people who persist in doing what they know is the right thing to do, even if it isn't easy. What a wonderful Dad!

  4. Yes, Deb, he was! And I think we need to remember and recognize the guys who took/take on other men's children--and the problems those men caused--and love and raise those kids, trying to heal the damage they didn't cause.

    1. Indeed. I should have mentioned my grandfather. I was a teenager when he became the first person in my life to tell me to do my homework. Then he sat at the dining room table with me reading the Boston Globe and ready to help.

  5. Sounds like a fabulous grandfather, Reine. xoxoxo

  6. Afterwards we'd go sit at the kitchen table and play cribbage. He'd tell stories that he'd make up about things that happened when he was in other countries. They were always funny but had some kind of lesson in them or were designed to see if I could recognize someone giving me a line... always funny though. On Saturdays he'd take me to Faneuil Hall market where we would shop. He always pointed out the huge brass kettle with steam coming out of the spout. His father had hung it over the tea company door. There is a Starbucks there now. And no steam was coming out of the spout the last time I was there. Crispus Attucks was killed a few feet away. The place where the Franklin printing press had been was around the corner. We ate at the old restaurant called Durgin Park where my great-grandparents ate and where my great-grandfather drank at the bar downstairs before he walked down the hill to the wharf. He wanted to take the boat home. Instead he fell in the water and drowned. My Boston ghosts. A few.

  7. Wonderful memories, Reine! You should think of writing a memoir.