by Linda Ryan
Over the course of my life, I've had the benefit of a lot of fathers. I had the father who gave me life, the father who gave me shelter and family, the surrogate fathers who fostered and nurtured me in various ways, and the Father who was both boss, friend and mentor. Now if that isn't a bounty of fathers, I don't know what is.
The father who gave me life also had one of the hardest decisions in the world to make concerning me. Being a single father and in the military, should he keep me with him and raise me as best he was able, or should he send me to people he knew would care for me better than he could and yet still allow him to be part of my life. He chose what was best for me under the circumstances, and I'm grateful for that. He was part of my life and also the life of my son until the day of his death in 1998. I thank him for being a gentle presence and for the sacrifice he made for me.
The father who gave me shelter and family also had to raise me as a single parent for years. It was hard for him; he was older than most fathers and to have a rebellious teenaged daughter surely was a trial for him. Still, he did his best, even though he had to sacrifice to feed, clothe and educate me, and I was hedonistic enough to feel it was probably my due. Still, he was "Daddy", and remained loving and patient with me until his death nearly 25 years ago. I thank him for watching over me, teaching me, and supporting me in decisions he might not have agreed with but which he still allowed me to make on my own.
I had surrogate fathers -- folks like Frank, Tom and the man I called "Papa." For a time and at various times, each of them welcomed me into their families, treated me as another child of theirs, fed me, entertained me and taught me about life in families that were what seemed more "normal" than mine was much of the time. I should include my brother as well, my "big" brother, who teased me, roughhoused with me and became a rock for me when various things in my life fell apart. I thank them all for loving me and caring for me in their various ways.
And then there was the Father -- although I never called him that. I only worked for him for a year, but it was the richest year I ever spent as an employee. He consistently drove me to a dictionary at least once a week, and I already had a fairly decent vocabulary. He preached in such a way and with such a turn of phrase that not only did I remember the sermon when I hit the front door on the way out, but I often had things to think about throughout the whole of the next week. He was the kind of priest and person who could make me think without making me think I was stupid because I had to look up a word he'd used or had to ask what something meant. That was a rare and wonderful gift, but so was his friendship, along with that of his wife and his much-adored cat, Emerson. I was honored when he trusted me to try new things and to stretch my wings on projects outside my job description. I thank him for so many things, most of all for encouraging me to try unfamiliar things, for giving me validation and approval, and for being a good friend -- all of which he still is and does.
All of my fathers had one thing in common and that was whether or not they were church-going folk or not, their walk and their talk were the same. There was no artifice, no "say one thing and do something else" with any of them. What you saw was what you got, and on the whole, I got the benefit of all of them. And even though there is only one candle still lit among all those which have gone out over the years, I remember and I am thankful for each life that the candles represent. The memory of their bright flames sustains me and comforts me.
Every girl should be as lucky as I have been with my fathers. Really and truly.