I don’t have many memories of my father, but I remember like it was yesterday how he said he was going out to see a man about a dog and never came back. I was six years old. The only time I heard from him again was when he sent me a postcard to say I was now the man of the house and should take care of my mum, the way he knew I would.
For the rest of my childhood, I held onto that tiny postcard and slept with it under my pillow. I played a movie inside my head in which my dad had taken passage on a boat from England to America where he was making his fortune. Soon, he would return and we would eat chicken everyday and drink lemonade, even if we were not thirsty. He would hug me and give the greatest gift of all – his smile and praise for being his boy.
But I would not see my father again until I was a young man. He cried when we met and I wondered about all the adventures he had had without me. We were strangers with no shared memories beyond him joking that he wanted some of my hair because all of his had fallen out.
And then, by some hideous twist of fate, he died on my birthday. It seemed like a tortured final gift from someone who had never sent gifts for any birthday before. He died alone and in poverty. There was no adventure in America, no fortune, no lemonade. Any chance for us to know each other as men was gone forever.
But I have no time for pity parties. I found ambition from my father’s absence. The same movie that he should have starred in became my movie and I came to America to find my fortune. The memories that I should have had as a boy became the memories I made as a father to my own children.
Now, my youngest daughter is six years old and I cannot imagine abandoning the memories of her upbringing to a stranger. I cannot imagine the emptiness of losing a thousand moments of joy that are made just by coming home and having her leap into my arms. And I cannot imagine the loss that a man must feel when he realizes it is all too late because the child he could have known is grown and the beautiful age of innocence is lost forever.
Fatherhood lives in shared memories. It is the movie that is the life of our families. It is our authentic, unique existence.
Around the world, we are celebrating our fathers and being a father. We celebrate fatherhood because it is the greatest gift a man will ever know. And as we stare into the loving eyes of our children, we have our own precious sense of immortality.
And no one can take that away.