Being out in Southern California again, and for another funeral, I find myself thinking in particular about the experience of being a man, particularly of being a dad, who has lost his father.
I find myself wanting to say that in addition to the natural grief we always feel at death, that there is a particular feeling of disconnection or incompleteness that comes from being a man who loses his father comparatively young. The process of growing up and having one's own family is one which brings a new pespective on one's youthful life. The inexplicable actions and words of parents suddenly fall into place and make sense as we find ourselves facing our own adult problems and raising our own children. "Hey, Dad, I get it. Is this what you were thinking?" you want to say. "I'm like you now."
With your father dead, this becomes a one sided conversation. You reach these epiphanies and think, "Yeah, this must be what Dad was going through," but with no answer back, you never feel quite sure. The distance of childhood perception stands between. Is this how Dad felt? Maybe I look to my kids now like he looked to me then. Maybe I don't even remember right.
In some sense, the image of "Dad" fixes at the extent to which you were able to understand and share experiences when he was alive -- a slight distance or idealization, something you never quite feel you can inhabit the inside of or live up to.
This is how I've come to think of it. Though as I watch my uncles in their late 40s and early 50s talking last night about losing their father at the age of 84, I wonder if I've built up "what it would be like to have your father longer" into some sort of ideal in its own right. From these men not much younger than Dad was when he died, I get the same sense that "Dad" is a figure never quite felt to be fully understood or lived up to. That the gap between "my dad" and "trying to be a good father" persists through life.
In the end, it is doubltess most important simply to be thankful to have had such a good one at all, for any length of time.