Happy Father’s Day

mom, dad & me in England

Cherish them while you can . . .

                   

My father’s hands

are gnarled and time worn

Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

leaving his hands weak and small.

They remind me of a monkey’s hands—

brown and leathery.

These hands that have tended to so many machines—

fixed so many moving parts

These same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

He has cast lines into many waters,

unhooked his catch again and again,

alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler—

blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

from my skinned knees,

patched my wounds,

only to let me go again.

They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite,

taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

and how to make a seam true.

I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

with the same careful tenderness

as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

from a deadly current

with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

A world away in another lifetime,

my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind—

but never forgot.

Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

in morphine dreams,

sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

and knit them to and fro, over and over.

In the few moments when they are still,

I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

against my beating heart—

they are so diminished within my own.

These hands

that have labored and loved

harvested and hewn

These hands are the man he was

and the life he lived.

And now that his days are waning,

I want nothing more

than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

when everything was safe,

and nothing could harm me

because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

taken back to that instant

when he held the fender of my bike

and guided me on the path.

touched me on the shoulder once

before setting me free to find my way.

L. Liwag

May 31, 2001

                   

Music by Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”

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4 thoughts on “Happy Father’s Day

  1. I enjoyed your poem. Very moving. I tend to ignore Father’s Day. My father was emotionally absent. He didn’t like kids. He’d been in the military 20+ years, then 20+ as a civilian working for the military. They said his mother was stingy with affection. Who knows why he held us at arm’s length? There are a few moments I remember fondly, mixed in with the ones that involved humiliation. I tried my best to honor him as an adult. I cared for him at the end, and I know that he appreciated that. If I do anything in my life, I hope I pass on the importance of fathers to my sons… This poem can serve as a catalyst for that discussion…

    • Child/Parent relationships are so perplexing. When I go on about my dad, I often stop myself and think that I’m doing a disservice to my mother, but I know which one I got along with better. I’m sorry that your own relationship was filled with pain.

      You’re doing what I try to do–raise sons who will someday be good fathers. It’s the best we can do.

  2. I lost my father 43 years ago this month, and I miss him now as much as I missed him then. That poem is so touching, and you managed to pick THE song I associate with memories of my dad as well. For myself and for my dad, I thank you so very much…

    • IMan,
      I miss my dad every day. Now that Olivia is here, I think how happy he would have been to hold his great granddaughter. That songs kills me. We all celebrate Father’s Day in our own ways, I suppose.

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