My Buddhist teacher read this poem to us on the first night of our retreat and it struck a chord with me. As we get older, hopefully anyway, we start to develop more compassion and perspective and realize that being a father is hard. Most of them just do the best they can and hope their kid turns out all right.
“Phone Call” by Tony Hoagland
Maybe I overdid it
when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
That might have been a little strongly put,
a slight overexaggeration,
an immoderate description of the person
who at that moment, two thousand miles away,
holding the telephone receiver six inches from his ear,
must have regretted paying for my therapy.
What I meant was that my father
was an enemy of my humanity
and what I meant behind that
was that my father was split
into two people, one of them
living deep inside of me
like a bad king or an incurable disease –
blighting my crops,
striking down my herds,
poisoning my wells – the other
standing in another time zone,
in a kitchen in Wyoming,
with bad knees and white hair sprouting from his ears.
I don’t want to scream forever,
I don’t want to live without proportion
like some kind of infection from the past,
so I have to remember the second father,
the one whose TV dinner is getting cold
while he holds the phone in his left hand
and stares blankly out the window
where just now the sun is going down
and the last fingertips of sunlight
are withdrawing from the hills
they once touched like a child.
-from What Narcissism Means To Me (Greywolf Press, 2003)