don't know if all fathers are unsung heroes, but mine sure
is. For the last twenty-five years my father, Mel Leventhal,
has been known in many circles as "Alice Walker's ex-husband,"
and a few weeks ago he told me people now refer to him as
"Rebecca Walker's father." He laughed when he
said this, claiming to love this latest twist in the identity
game, but I know better. How can I not? I know what it's
like to be practically invisible, a living arrow pointing
to someone else.
father, with a rifle and a German shepherd, fought the Klan
on our doorstep in Jackson, Mississippi. My father, with
a law degree and a lot of chutzpah, fought segregation in
the Supreme Court. My father has fought on behalf of consumers,
old people, disabled people, women. My father has worked
almost every day of the week to support first his first
wife, and then his second, and to put his children through
college and beyond. My father has packed up the car with
his kids' stuff and moved us into and out of more dorm rooms
and apartments than I care to count. He has written more
checks for root canals and bite plates, bar mitzvahs and
baby showers, laptops and trips abroad than seems humanly
possible. He has attended an untold number of plays, readings,
lectures, baseball games, and even movie premieres to support
his children and kvell.
I feel like I am the only one who notices all this. Is it
that these are things that fathers are supposed to do and
so no one says anything about the amazing fact that they
actually get done? Or maybe there is a medal I don't know
about that is secretly awarded to men who give their entire
lives so that their families and the rest of humankind will
be better off. Really, I am serious. How come people aren't
like, blowing horns or organizing tributes to these guys?
I don't get it.
has taken me thrity-four years to understand the way my
father loves. To understand that for him fathering is about
self-sacrifice, or as one friend of mine says, "dying
into one's children." When I was a small child I missed
my father when he went to his office, especially on weekends.
As I grew older, I resented the fact that he disappeared
into that netherland. As an adolescent I confronted him,
accusing him of being a workaholic and trying to escape
intimacy. Now, as a parent myself, I see more clearly his
deep sense of responsibility, the integrity in his commitment
to making sure his children start off with a solid foundation.
He has put off so much of his own life for our development.
I don't know that I agree with his choice, but I can't say
I haven't benefited from it.
days, my father comes from New York to visit me in San Francisco
bearing gifts: a bag of my favorite chocolates and ten days
of his time. He lets me sleep in the mornings and then picks
me up in the big SUV I convinced him to rent. We go to movies,
walk around mountain lakes, and eat at all my favorite restaurants.
We talk about all the books we plan to write, and all the
cities in foreign lands we want to visit. We talk about
the importance of fathers and the many, many men and women
who don't have one. We talk about his first grandson, still
swimming around in my belly. We talk about how much I will
miss him when this life is over, and how much more this
makes me appreciate him now.