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On Father’s Day A(nother) Conversation About Mother’s Day

“I’m sure the dogs will get you something nice. For Mother’s Day,” Dad laughed.

I looked to my left and smiled. Sometimes it felt warm and sometimes it felt ridiculous to be called a dog ‘mommie’.

Dad continued, “You should get something for me too.”

“For you? You’re not a mother.” I squinted at him and tightened one side of my mouth up to meet a wrinkle under my eye tugged down.

“I did both jobs. I was mother and father.”

“You’re not a mother.”

“Sure I was,” he motioned with his chin for emphasis.

It was true that since my mother had died when I was ten, Dad had taken on extra household tasks, conversations and questions. But both mother and father? For years, I had considered his statement to be true. Recently, it didn’t seem such an accurate statement. Why? My mind and my stomach began to swirl together. Both echoed with a hollow agitation. I could not identify key reasons why I knew his statement wasn’t true nor strategies of how to share this without eliciting defensiveness. How could I be less willing to confirm his statement while still affirming I didn’t love him less?

I turned back to the tv, a natural solution to justify the pause. Our ‘gender analysis’ normally occurred in front of the television as well. An observation about body types, or a quip about relationships and personality characteristics. In his mind they are harmless, without judgment and for me they had always been instructions about ways to be and not be so that someone would love me. I had made previous attempts in other conversations about his inability as a man to hear what he says as a woman would. Accusations that I was ‘too sensitive’ had been the norm.

The root of my new opinion about Dad’s contention that he was successfully mother and father was embedded in recent years of reading about marginalized histories, power dynamics and lack of acknowledgment that own voices matter. I considered if it were the false assumption that an outside perspective could navigate the world the same as an inside one, instead of attacking that claim, I should lift up the narrative that was true and celebrate fatherhood in its own merit. What did I most appreciate about my father? His talent for memory.

From the shelf in Farm and Fleet, I removed and purchased a single plastic elephant. I had researched elephants several years ago for a novel in verse. Its center is the absence of mothers and female guidance, and one does not replace the other. Still, the bull elephant plays his role. I searched that manuscript for every mention of bull. From several, I reconstructed one poem.

Bull elephants always come

And go.

I smell him.

Limp shirt.

Hangs like ears.

Bull elephant

Who walked

Through a jungle

To reach us.

Whatever brush may have been

In his way.

Large rough hands

Ripped the trail open

With no machete.

Feisty young bulls charge to show off.

Lone elephants are old bulls.

Neither stay with the women.

He is both

Has been both

Who is he now?

I wrote the text simply on a piece of stationary he gifted me uncounted years ago. The elephant figure atop a sheet of paper placed on the kitchen counter greeted him on Sunday morning and so he greeted me.

"I like the elephant. I get it, you know. All the words. And the idea about elephants and memory." He traced the wrinkles set in gray plastic with his own dark creased finger. "You always think of something."

I considered the lone bull elephant, the stalwart, the man of tools, the keeper of the previous and the stone archway unmoving while aware and agitated by the oncoming pressures and threats to territory.

"I promise I'm always listening."

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