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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Death of My Father: An Imperfect Man

Dawn and Ken Evans    June 2013

             In the wake of my father’s death (4.11.14), it seemed only natural that I might reflect upon the things he taught me. The list started out with a few fits and starts. In today’s psycho-babble lingo, my father was not an emotionally-available man. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t often a physically-available man. He did not come to school performances. Parent-teacher conferences were my mother’s domain. He did not host family meals. Often, once I left home for college and adulthood, he would pop his head out of his office when I had driven three hours to see my parents, and say he had to work, “Good to see you, though,” I would hear as the pine door closed with him on the other side.  College? He saw Mount Holyoke when he came up from Wesleyan for a dance in 1950. And again, on the day that I graduated in May, 1980. He didn’t help move me in, nor did he ever visit.  I did not know if my parents would be attending my wedding until the day I was married.  They were vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard (September 1st being prime time) and my father hated to give up any of their vacation time for a wedding.  They chartered a small plane to fly them into the local airprot. If the weather was inclimate, they would not have been able to make it. Thankfully, the weather was glorious.  The only tears I shed that day were when my parents left, before we had cut the cake.  They wanted to be back on the Island by 5pm and it was an hour flight.  I was hurt that my father agreed to spend no more than four hours with me on the day of my marriage.  When I was delivering my second child, I asked my mother to come help by caring for my little seventeen-month daughter. She apologized and said that she couldn’t because my father was flying in from Florida after a particularly trying visit with his aged father, and he needed her to help him decompress. I wonder if I am adequately conveying how detached he seemed from my life.
So, when I started to put together the list of Things That I Learned from my Father, I stalled. I was felt like I was piloting a plane doing a spiral nose-dive.  Then, suddenly, I was able to pull back hard on the yoke and I started to climb. No crash and burn.  

Things My Father Taught Me
How to make a POP sound with my finger and cheek
How to laugh at myself by making silly faces
How to make blueberry muffins
How to swim (with my mother)
How to throw a baseball
How to wear a catcher’s mitt
How to throw a football
How to organize for tax time
How to tinker on the piano
How to blow a trumpet

My father was imperfect. His imperfections served to deliver many lessons of their own. They are some big ones:

Never let Fear dictate your actions.  A corollary: step into that which frightens you, rather than turn away from it.
That family is the most important thing there is.
That being present is sometimes all you have to do.

Over the course of the fifty-five years that I knew my father, there was an unfaltering message that he delivered - even when he was not at my performances, meals, and life events, He loved me. It wasn’t always the kind of love I wanted or the sort of love I could feel, but it was HIS love. It was what he had to give me at any given time and he wanted me to have it all those times that he wasn’t available to me.  In his last year, his brain had undergone much atrophying and he was a different man than I had known. He had morphed into someone who was kinder, gentler, and more reflective. I usually called him three times a week and he always told me he loved me. He often told me he loved my children. Even more frequently, he told me he was proud of me and that I had done a wonderful job to raise such amazing kids. He named my husband, and laid equal credit for good parenting at his feet.
My father, as if unleashed, sang rave reviews; they penetrated and I heard them. 
Perhaps the most important take-away lesson was one I did not glean until he died.  My father was an imperfect man who loved me to the best of his ability with unwavering commitment. No, it didn’t look like the love I wanted, nor was it always expressed in ways that I understood, but I knew he loved me to my very fiber.  So hang with me on this…
My father, an imperfect man who loved me perfectly taught me that , though
I am an imperfect woman, the love I give my children is absolutely perfect.

What better gift could a father leave his daughter?


  1. Dear Dawn, Please accept my condolences at this time. I am sorry about your loss. I so very much appreciated this post. This is such deep truth and I was very inspired by your insights. Thank you so much for putting it all so eloquently despite such difficult time for you. Thinking of you at this time. Warmly, Luba

  2. Dawn, so sorry to read about your Dad's passing. I am thinking of you and your family and keep you in my good thoughts and prayers. Leslie