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Appreciate the Fathers in Your Life
A father can be a lot of things.
My Thursday post is late I know! Yesterday was Father’s Day. I realize some people aren’t close with their fathers, or their fathers are no longer with them, or they are working to become fathers and perhaps things are not going to plan - and so I recognize the content of this essay could potentially be triggering, and I am un-offended if anyone opts to skip this essay.
If you have a paternal figure in your life, whether a father, male mentor, big brother, uncle, step-father, grandfather, or anyone who has kind of fit the fatherly mold (even single mothers covering both roles!), don’t forget to show them a little love.
I rarely get to see my father on Father’s Day. He lives 2700 miles from me, on the opposite coast, just like the rest of my family (he’s in New Jersey, the rest are in New Hampshire). I honestly can’t remember the last Father’s Day I actually spent with him, but I always send him cards and presents, and he knows I appreciate him tremendously. This year I called him and we caught up for a few hours, which delayed me finishing this piece until after midnight.
Cards are a big thing. My dad loves cards, and he loves to send cards. In 2019 he gave me a Mothers Day card “from” my BIRDS. When I was young, after my parents divorced, a few weeks before Mothers Day he would send a big manila envelope to me. Inside would be a Mothers Day card for my mother and one for my father’s mother (my mother’s mother was already dead). He would put little post-it notes telling me this is where I should put a nice message to Mum or to Grammy, and he pre-addressed the envelope to Grammy, complete with her address, my return address and a stamp. Cards have always been important to him.
I’ve kept up that tradition in later years, always trying to send cards (it’s why I’m so fond of holiday cards too), because I know how much he loves them.
This is my father, Arne Erickson.
I took this picture above when he visited Los Angeles in 2015. He’s the only member of my close family to visit me in Los Angeles (him and my half brother, who has an aunt and uncle on this coast). He started coming out for Thanksgiving in 2013, and did so through 2015. He had some health issues in 2016 and hasn’t been back out since, but hopefully he’ll visit again soon.
When he visited in 2013, he and Judd pulled out their guitars and played music together after Thanksgiving dinner. It was a lot of fun - most people don’t realize Judd’s actually a very talented guitarist. My dad has had a guitar as long as I can remember, and has played it and sung for me all of my life (including my teenage years when I found it tremendously embarrassing).
I once asked Dad about it and he told me that though he first learned how to play guitar as a teenager, he began playing guitar regularly around when I was born - he first got on stage with a band the following year, in 1988. In 2020, before the pandemic hit, we were both in New Hampshire in late January during his birthday, and he was performing at an open mic night. We ended up singing a number of songs together, particularly pagan ones from my childhood, including this one of The Wintry Queen.
My father has four children. I’m the only girl. My brothers Ragnar and Lars were born in the 1970s, I came along about a decade later, and then in 2003, the same year my father retired, his partner Amara had his other son, my half-brother, Samuel. Sam just graduated from high school this past month and is headed off to college. In the picture below, it’s (top left to right) Dad, Lars, Ragnar, with Sam and I on the lower half of the picture. This is from 2016, which isn’t the last time the four kids were together but the only picture of the bunch of us I can find.
My father had Ragnar when he was 22 years old. Sometimes that floors me, because I can’t imagine becoming a parent that young. At 19 years old, my dad was running around Boston with Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Tonie Nathan for campaign appearances, and had a Libertarian college radio show in Boston and pulled stunts making political statements. He met my mother a few years later - they were both actively engaged in Libertarian politics, and got married in 1975.
I know that my father was a different kind of father to my brothers than he was to me. In the 1970s my parents were young and idealistic and figuring things out and working out their lives together - my brothers had their own experiences as my parents figured out the kind of parents they would be to them, homeschooling them, and raising them in that time with the community and resources they had.
I showed up ten years later. I have a jumble of funny memories from my early childhood (I remember watching The Gremlins with him the night I broke my nose at a gathering, and him swaddling me up in a blanket and telling me I’d be ok, I remember him reading the funny pages with me in the newspaper when I was really small). My parents divorced when I was 6, and so from that point forward time with Dad was a treasure - he lived far away and sent letters.
He’d show up with presents and movies and stories when he visited, and I loved it. He brought me ice skating, would skate on the rink with me for hours and encourage me as I practiced spins and light jumps. We’d often go see movies, sometimes he’d choose something that was a little too old for me —- he brought me to see my first PG-13 movie in theaters, Star Trek First Contact when I was 8 —- which scared me, but I loved seeing it with him and I really wanted to brave the whole thing. (My brothers showed me Lost Boys rated R when I was 4 at home and I loved how frightening it was but it also wasn’t in a giant booming movie theatre).
(Photo above: I have few pictures of my Dad and I when I was little since he was usually the one holding the camera, but here I am wearing his slippers).
In my teens I went through the obligatory phase of being completely mortified about how embarrassing he was. He used to learn popular music (sometimes per my request) but when he’d visit again he’d show me how to play it on the guitar, and naturally it had been weeks or months since I’d confirmed an interest, so by then it wasn’t “cool” anymore. He showed up at my 14th birthday party singing Nelly’s Hot In Here (the song of the summer) and I was exactly how you’d imagine a 14 year old girl would react to her dad doing that. I may have started using his first name for a bit. There was just that perpetually uncool stage for a bit.
I didn’t actually know that my father had another kid until I was 18 and my half-brother was 3. Dad was living in New Jersey, and came to visit for my 18th birthday. The whole family went to Olive Garden, and my dad raised a toast to my mother for raising me so well. He gave me a book. And then he gave me pictures - of little Sam.
He told me the story of becoming this little boy’s father, and asked me, now that I was grown, would I be part of my little brother’s life, and help our father be the best father to him? Sam got ANOTHER stage of Dad. A Dad with 28 years of parenting experience, a Dad who was retired and local, who could be with him all the time. A Dad who totally ALSO prepared cards for Sam to send to me for my birthday every year when he was little.
I’m really proud of my father. He was a great Dad to me, and my brothers stepped in in so many ways to be the positive male influence when Dad wasn’t there, I look back on my childhood and I don’t feel an absence of his presence, even when there were months between us seeing one another. Now I’ve seen him be an even better father to Sam, and continue to be a great Dad to me long after I became an adult - he’s always provided advice, support, and occasionally profoundly insightful commentary. Or insightful gifts: when Judd and I started dating, we took a lot of LSD and a lot of mushrooms together, and Dad gave us shroom chocolates. I joke that it was his ‘welcome to the family’ present.
Photo above: Dad’s girlfriend Dona, me, and Dad, before a fancy dinner in New York in 2018.
My father became very ill in late 2016, and we struggled with doctors and hospitals for months to try to figure out what was wrong with him, but he needed round the clock care which his girlfriend Dona provided. In January of 2017, I stayed with him for two weeks to give her a break. His medical issues were confusing and scary - he was in and out of the hospital, and depressed from the experience. It was hard on all of us. But it made me appreciate him even more. I’ve always thought of him as healthy and game for anything - he’ll jump on a stage with a guitar, he’ll go camp in the woods, he’ll seek spiritual enlightenment and try to make amends for the things he’s gotten wrong. He’s really someone who decided these past 20 years especially to take life for what can make it fulfilling and enjoyable, and so I’ve often thought of him as pretty immortal - until I saw him in a hospital bed with constant short term memory loss and unexplained seizures.
He’s better now, thankfully. It was a scary six months, but he’s doing better now. He’s tried to repair some tense relationships with others since then, and I’m so proud of him because again - he tries to make the most he can out of his life, to live it fully, to enjoy it thoroughly, and to do so with love and grace and peace, and to give that to others if he worries he may have somehow diminished theirs along the way.
I took this photo on my Dad’s 67th birthday, in 2020.
Today, my father is still living in New Jersey, still close to his youngest son and Sam’s moms (that’s another story, my lil’bro has 2 moms + my dad). He hosts regular Open Mic nights. He is deeply involved in his spiritual community, a coven called Hands of Change.
They say things about how women choose men who remind them of their father in some way. I always thought that was an odd thing to say. But sometimes it makes me laugh. My dad had a Libertarian radio show in college and then went on to do Libertarian Party activism. Judd is a Libertarian activist and speaker. My dad and Judd both have a deep love of music, and play guitar. Dad sings, Judd doesn’t. My dad and Judd have both enjoyed their share of cannabis and psychedelics. They are very different men in many other ways, but I find it funny when I spot random similarities. They’re both musical and creative, smart, silly, and aspire to do the best they can with the life they have to live. These are qualities that I am glad they share.
I know one of my most irritating qualities to Judd is that I narrate much of what I do out loud when I do it (only when other people are in the room). I get this from Dad.
Much like my essay about my mother, there are many more stories to tell of the humans who made me. There will be more. This was just the start.
My Dad calls me “Mijita” as a term of endearment and has since I was probably 16 years old. He went to Peru for a trip and came back using it. He doesn’t speak a lot more (I mean, he always says ‘Hola Mijita, es Papi, como estas?’), I think he studied a bit in high school and college 50 years ago. It’s just this one thing he started doing and never stopped. I laugh about it all the time because it’s so random (my brother Lars and I have another Spanish joke where he tells me “tu eres muy dorka”).
Well, Papi, Happy Father’s Day. From your Mijita.