Father poems that add to the love I feel for my father

In our young days. Baby me clearly with attitude, Dad in Kyambogo upgrading.

In our young days. Baby me clearly with attitude, Dad: Patrick, in Kyambogo upgrading.

I’ve had the honor and privilege to be “born of” a dad who seems to have known the right things to do when raising us. One could say as a child of 40’s, he was born in a culture and generation that loved and encouraged getting children. But men of those times, most of whom were very responsible dads, didn’t always openly and actively love their children. I know many my age who approached their dads with fear and trembling, and whenever they visited my home, they would marvel at how close and friendly dad was to us. He seemed an anomaly.

I’ve come to realize it’s those many anomalies that made Patrick special when we were growing up. He cooked for us interesting concoctions–I don’t remember men of his time in the kitchen. He showed me how to roast pumpkins on open fire, cleaned, gave me my first seeds when I was five and showed me a garden, said mine, if I could plant anything. I scattered beans and pumpkin seeds, got a kick when they actually grew, blossomed and fed us. By ten I knew what inch nails to use when fixing large or small fences. With my five siblings we were able to tend and milk cows, work in the gardens, and manage to be in school at the right time. He helped with homework, always asked how school was and listened attentively to what any of us had to say. It’s like we were at his level. He asked us for advice regarding land mostly, and often did what we suggested, so when it was his turn to advise us, we found mutuality instead of resistance.

We were always busy, bustling, planting, harvesting, building, destroying, and building some more. Hard work for sure, but Dad tried to make it fun mostly, telling stories while we worked, so by the time we realized his agenda of turning us into skilled and resourceful kids, well, we were already done. I keep asking my siblings how did we do all that we did? Dad too had a full time job as a lecturer and coach at National Teachers College, Kabale. I don’t recall a day he failed to ride his bike and go to work. I guess it was the element of fun and love in creating, be it a friendly home, a well-tended farm, a neat garden, a clean house or an assignment performed satisfactorily… that made the difference between joy versus tired.

Years down the road, at 72, although not well in body lately, Dad remains indefatigable when it comes to loving, giving, and caring at the expense of his own well-being sometimes. He can be so catholic! I like to blame him when I’m unable to slow down in my own world, a ball of energy constantly on the move. I tell him he facilitated it so he had better not think it’s just me. It’s us. That gets him laughing. It’s only mum who needs more explanation. But this is about my Dad.

My favorite Dad poem is Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays. The first time I read it it struck such a chord, and I appreciate it every time I read it. Although different from my own Dad experience, I understand its sentiments which give me such overwhelming feelings of love and sadness at the same time.

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he'd call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love's austere and lonely offices?

 

On this Father’s Day, I’m grateful to all the loving fathers out there who support and cherish their children,  families, and stand out in their communities. Here’s My Father’s Hat, a poem by Mark Irwin for your delight.

My Father’s Hat by Mark Irwin

   Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
   on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
   the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
   through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
   his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
   crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
   held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
   was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
   sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
   on water I'm not sure is there.

 

I will close with two: The Gift by Li-Young Lee, and Whose Mouth Do I Speak With by Suzanne Rancourt.

To all the blessed gifts we call Fathers. To all the mouths that have pushed out breath and spoken love. All my love.

The Gift by Li-Young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.

Whose Mouth Do I Speak With by Suzanne Rancourt

I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum.
He worked in the woods and filled his pockets
with golden chunks of pitch.
For his children
he provided this special sacrament
and we'd gather at this feet, around his legs,
bumping his lunchbox, and his empty thermos rattled inside.
Our skin would stick to Daddy's gluey clothing
and we'd smell like Mumma's Pine Sol.
We had no money for store bought gum
but that's all right.
The spruce gum
was so close to chewing amber
as though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyote
and how many other children had fathers
that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue
the blood of tree?

 

What’s your favorite Father poem?

At my brother's graduation party. Dad in a blue suit, the guy facing him uncle Baira, also his best man. They danced Kikiga dance until the floor cracked as you can see.

At my brother’s graduation party. Dad in a blue suit, the guy facing him uncle Baira, also his best man. They danced Kikiga dance until the floor cracked as you can see.

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One Response to Father poems that add to the love I feel for my father

  1. TJH June 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    An absolutely lovely tribute. Right now I can’t think of a favorite father poem other than the one you already cited by Robert Hayden. A much darker but still moving one comes to mind by Yusef Komunyakaa, My Father’s Love Letters. I’ll just cut to the ending:

    … This man,
    Who stole roses & hyacinth
    For his yard, would stand there
    With eyes closed & fists balled,
    Laboring over a simple word, almost
    Redeemed by what he tried to say.

    Parenting is never easy.

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