Last week Wong asked “Mum, do we HAVE to celebrate Father’s Day?”
“Nope,” I told him, pulling him close under my arm “We’re celebrating Future Father’s Day!”
“Cool!” he breathed, eyes wide in excitement. “Do we get presents?”
“Absolutely!” He grinned up at me then ran off to tell Hatro, the dance of bass and soprano voices thrumming through the walls as they discussed the possibilities. Hatro strolled out later to double check Wong’s enthusiastic news. “We’re celebrating Future Father’s Day?” he asked, leaning up against the bench while I washed dishes. “Yep,” I confirmed, “sound good?”
“Sure”, he nodded and shrugged like it was no big deal, then kissed my cheek. “I love you Mum.”
We went out shopping Thursday night, Hatro and Wong both oh so casually closing their hands around the money I slipped them to buy something for their brother, each disappearing at different times (into the same shop, no less!) and returning with double bagged bundles. They didn’t wrap them, instead tossing them at each other this morning once they were fully ready for church, the disguising bags (and still attached price tags) immediately discarded to the floor. Wong had bought Hatro a Rubik’s cube and moneybox, Hatro had chosen a vintage Jenga set. My contribution was a t-shirt for Hatro, a set of red braces for Wong, soft drink for each and a box of Favourites chocolates for us to share after church.
Today there were lots of presents. George, you were not present in any way. Not even your absence was felt. You missed out on Wong’s testimony, about how he loves this “awesome church” and is so grateful for Joseph Smith. You missed seeing him glance at me from the pulpit, and the point where his eyes reddened and he couldn't talk for what he was feeling. It only lasted a second, but you missed it. You missed seeing Hatro stride up to the sacrament table, trays of unbroken bread balanced in his hands; you've missed so many Sundays of him reminding us that we need to be ready and at church early. Today there were lots of presents.
Today, George, I couldn’t help but think about the past five years. It was the middle of August when you told me you didn’t love me as a wife anymore. Ten days later, it was the three year anniversary of our sealing. It was another week or so later – on Father’s Day, no less – when you wrote a love letter to Jezzie (a letter her husband sent me a year later), stating ‘again’ your love for her, your determination to be a strength for her, a part of her life, always dependable. Dependability is not one of your strengths, George.
About a year ago you sent me an email asking if the boys wanted to see you. Wasn't THAT a fun succession of emails? And your email of ‘advice’to the boys? Utter drivel. You've sent the boys each a birthday card since then and – nothing else. No email, no phone call, nothing. Today there were lots of presents.
But you know what, George? These past five years have been overflowing with gifts, presents and wonder. The boys themselves are a gift beyond all comprehension. You have no idea of the man Hatro is growing up to be; his likes, dislikes, sense of humour. Thinking about it right this second, I’m not even sure you’d recognise him if you passed him in a shopping centre. (Which, as you know, is in theory possible, us living so geographically close, if universes apart responsibility- and maturity-wise.) You don’t know if he’s shaving, what music he likes, how to tell if he’s in a bad mood, what medical issues may be pertinent to him, which girl/s he likes. You don’t know how he’s doing at school, or what he’s planning on doing as a career. You don’t know how he’s practically mute in most social occasions, or when he burbles words and ideas like a high pressure hose drenching a burning city. You have no idea.
Then there’s Wong. Wong, who has obviously inherited some of your genes (like his soft belly and disinclination to run) and has a stubborn determination to not be anything like you when he’s a man. Every job he considers is based on two qualities: does it earn enough to support a family, and does it give him time at home with his family. If it’s no to either, he dismisses it out of hand. He’s eleven, George, and that is already his focus. Today during so many testimonies glowing with praise and gratitude about wonderful fathers, Wong hugged me. “Thank you for celebrating Future Father’s Day,” he whispered. “You’re welcome, sweetie,” I breathed into his hair. “I know you’re going to be a great Dad, I can tell already.” He grinned up at me, and settled against my arm to listen to the next speaker. Today is the first Father’s Day that he hasn’t cried in five years, George. That was a present I accepted quietly, gratefully, held it carefully against my chest and breathed in the miracle sweetness of it.
You don’t get the gift of Wong, George. You don’t get the constant chatter and tumble of his thoughts, questions and conversations. You don’t know his passions, the talent he has playing his bass clarinet, his absolute lack of singing ability and his total obliviousness about it. You don’t know how he looks like his spine is dissolving when he has to hang out his laundry, or how any job he does is accompanied by music. You don’t know about his first stay in hospital this year, or how much he’s looking forward to my dating a man “who will become my Dad…” You've missed out on his lisp, his infatuations with comics and Doctor Who and why a pair of $4 red braces today was his favourite present in recent memory. You don’t know the squeak of his giggle, his frustration with poor journalism or disdain for political advertising. You have no idea, again.
Today still had some sharp and thirsty edges though. After church the boyos and I got changed, made lunch and settled down to watch The Fifth Element. The first ten minutes had us all saying dialogue along with the characters, we’ve watched it so many times. It hit me, in the middle of a sequence, that you and I first saw promo for the movie a week after we were married, when I drove down to Jervis Bay to spend the weekend with you during your Naval training. I suddenly remembered just how much I loved you then, us both so young and hopeful. I remembered you loved me too, then, loved me for years before you stopped. I remembered you playing with my hair as we watched an interview about this weird upcoming movie, and how unexpected our wedding rings still looked against our hands. I remembered the simple happiness, the wonderful feel of that day, and it didn’t hurt. I was pregnant with Hatro at the time, and while I can’t remember if we saw the movie before or after he was born, it was a revelation to sit next to him today, over sixteen years since learning of the movie, listening to him act and cackle at the story, Wong giggling and quoting right along with him. I fell asleep no more than ten minutes later in the armchair, the familiar sounds of their chatter and laughter a welcome, warming lullaby.
The boys are in bed now, dreams thick around their heads, another day tasted, wrestled, laughed and surprised into submission. It’s another Father’s Day – the fourth – you haven’t seen them, and at least the third since you've spoken to them. So much has happened in all of our lives over the past five years today seems both ordinary and peculiarly charged with meaning.
Hey George, speaking of meaning – do you know what I did this month? I went to America. Again. The second time in three years I left the country and flew half way around the world. This time, I went on my own, leaving the boys with a wonderful young single adult from church. While in Utah, I went to the Salt Lake City Temple for a session. On the way in there were at least three freshly married couples being feted in the bright summer light, the same light which was exalted in the stained glass windows throughout the temple. I couldn’t help but be touched by the determination of the pioneers in wrecking their bodies, their scant belongings, and forty years of their lives against and into the stone and beauty of the temple, the love of their God evident in every brushstroke, carved cluster and staircase. I realised the pioneers were stubborn people, the lot of them, stubborn and determined in the middle of nothing to make something important, and make it beautiful. They are my type of people, and there – in a building of love and sacrifice and stubbornness – I felt they appreciated my efforts just as much.
After the session, George, I wrote yours and Jezzie’s name onto the prayer roll. Your name has been in written in every temple I have ever been in, Jezzie’s as well these past five years. You have no idea, yet again. One day you will realise the worth of the gifts you have been given, yet walked away from or just not accepted. That will be a terrible day for you, George, and I’m sorry for the pain and grief you will feel when it happens. I’ve had five years of grief, yet today was the first Father’s Day without sadness or sorrow. That was a gift too, George, gratefully accepted, unwrapped and appreciated.
I’m stubborn, George – even more stubborn than when you knew me. I am stubborn and determined. These past five years (five years! I can’t believe it’s been that incredibly long or that impossibly short) I've felt often that I’m in the middle of nothing, breaking my heart and dreams against stone walls. But I've also felt that in the middle of nothing I’m making something important with and for my sons, and making a beautiful life with them, for them, because of them. It’s because of that determination, that stubbornness that today has been so wonderful. Because I look at Hatro and Wong, wherever we are, and see the gift that they are. They’ve been given to me, and I've never let go of them. I’d stubborn and determined to share in their beauty, their weirdness, their complexities and sheer insanity, as well as the frustrations, doubts and fears that go along with being their parent. And one day I’ll see them become parents. And that will be another gift, in and of itself.
George, I've addressed this to you, though it’s only now at its end I realise it’s more for myself, and for the boys as well. Boyos, happy Future Father’s Day. You are loved, adored, mock-strangled, kissed while you are sleeping, hugged while you are awake, and whether you recognise the depth and eternal strength of my love for you is not the point. Hatro and Wong, we have been through a whole lot of mess and destruction together, as well as excitement, crazy fun and contentment. I am proud of you, of being your Mum, your parent, that we three are family, strong, stubborn, determined, faithful and looking forward with hope. You are both going to be exceptional fathers, in no small part due to George’s examples, which – one day – we may unexpectedly find ourselves giving thanks for. But until then, I’m so proud that we find joy in each other, in being together, that we can appreciate our blessings, and celebrate whenever the opportunity arises.
Happy Future Father’s Day, Hatro and Wong!
And me – congratulations on (almost, kind of, mostly, perhaps, maybe, stubbornly, somehow) surviving another year and Father’s Day.