Look at these beautiful little boys.
Just look at them. Don't they make your heart ache?
I didn't know this photograph existed until recently. It had been hidden away for many years along with the very few momentos that survive from that time. I found it in a box under a 70 year old newspaper dated August 14th, 1945 which was emblazoned with a bold black headline.....
WAR ENDS!! TRUMAN ORDERS NIPS TO CEASE FIGHTING.
Looking at the photo always causes me a rush of conflicting emotions.
It makes me smile and evokes feelings of tenderness, though they are not my children. It makes me wistful for childhood and all its gifts. For how could these towheaded little imps make a person think of anything else? They personify innocence and insouciance. They conjure up images of grass stained knees, of sunshine and mud and cops and robbers and pajamas with chaps clad cowboys on them.
Can't you just imagine them facing one another with guns drawn, sneering..."Whatsa matta copper? Aincha got the noive to shoot me?" And then one of them falls, clutching his chest, gasping, retching and flailing dramatically. The other blows on the barrell of his gun and replaces it in the stiff plastic holster on his hip.
So I think of that when I look at this photograph. And it makes me happy. Because I believe there was some of that in their lives. Enough that none of them became criminals or drug addicts or suicide statistics.
But it also makes me sad and angry. Because I know that they were denied the one thing that would have made a real difference.
65 years ago, when they were too young to understand why or how, their father disappeared from their lives.
He didn't die. He didn't go missing in action behind enemy lines. He didn't suffer from amnesia and forget that he had a wife and children. He just decided that he didn't want them anymore.
Think about that for a moment.
How could a father simply turn his back and never wonder if they cried for him at night? How could a father never wonder if they were doing alright in school or if they had enough to eat or whether they made the football team? Most fathers couldn't.
But he did.
He left them behind when he went to war, never realizing he would not return to reclaim his place in their lives; never guessing he would break their mother's heart and turn her into a cold, emotionally distant woman. Never understanding that he shamed her with his abandonment; made her a pariah in the Catholic church which would not condone or recognize divorce, and set her apart from the 9 brothers and sisters that were her support system and from the God that she had obeyed without question all her life.
He did heroic things and saved many lives. And then, on a cold European morning, while looking out over a vista of pain and suffering; wondering how such atrocities happen, he met a tiny birdlike woman with a tattoo on her arm. She was more dead than alive, but something in her could not be extinguished. She was a bright light in the bleakness of human misery that was all about him.
And for her, he forsook his sons.
He replaced them with two other strong strapping sons, and gave them everything his forgotten boys longed for. They thrived, as boys will do when they have a positive, nurturing male role model in their lives. They prospered, as boys will do when given the priviliges of a middle class upbringing and college education.
One thing about getting older that is difficult to reconcile, is the ability to see our parents as they really are, instead of infallable beings who will never die, never hurt, never falter. In recent years, I have struggled a lot with that. The love is still there, still incredibly deep, but overshadowed by the judgment and doubt that comes from an adult perspective. I don't like it, but I can't seem to help it. More than anything, I want to go back to the days when I thought they were perfect.
But I know and understand things now that I didn't before. I have become privvy to long hidden truths; hurts and heartaches buried ages ago.
Throughout my childhood, my paternal grandfather was an infrequent guest in our home. We saw him once a year when he visited from his home in Virginia. When he came, he brought his birdlike wife, who seemed softspoken and kind and always dressed so nicely. She wore cat's eye glasses and spoke with an accent that was both guttural and mellifluous. She fascinated me.
But I felt the tension and recognized the tentative manner in which the adults spoke to one another. There were pleasantries and niceties, but no real substance to their conversations. It was all very polite and careful.
I didn't know then that they had once gone twenty years without speaking. I didn't know that for twenty years, the forgotten boys had struggled to find their way in the world with no means of navigation; no paternal compass.
But I know now. It explains a lot. It has helped me understand and forgive a little. And it has made me sorry. Sorry for those little boys and sorry for the men who became fathers without knowing what exactly a father is. I still struggle with anger sometimes. But more often than not, it's a dead man who bears the brunt, and that's just as well, since his sins have no place in this life anymore.
I've realized that I don't need to have perfection.
Because I have a father.