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Now I’m a grown man, with a child of my own, and I swear I’m not going to let her know all of the pain that I’ve known. -Art Alexakis

By Mark E. Smith

When I was 17, I spent a lot of that summer camping in Yosemite’s White Wolfe region. It was part independence building, part adventure, part escape. I attended forestry seminars that summer, and learned that wild fires can prove good for the environment. Dense forests fill up with debris, and stifle new growth; however, a wild fire clears out the old, and allows new plants and trees to grow. What initially seems like destruction, actually builds a new, stronger habitat.

At that time, I wasn’t in touch with my father. He’d walked out on my brother and me many years earlier. We were little, maybe five and six, or a bit older – it’s hard to date such things, probably because it’s too painful to remember exactly when your father left. But, I remember.

Regardless of dates or circumstances, when your father drives away for the last time, it creates a void in you that many say never goes away – it’s just a heavy sky that’s left over you. And, as the seasons pass, you learn that other people, who you love, leave and don’t come back, either. It’s emotional dominoes set into motion by the man who’s supposed to be a boy’s hero, and you learn to just fall with them, relationship after relationship, where the fear of abandonment becomes the security of being alone.

Yet, you grow strong in ways, where you never distrust because there’s always a chance that someone might stay. You’re forever a seven-year-old starring out of the living room window, with the possibility that Dad might pull up in his pick-up truck, boozed up but playful. And, so you learn to trust in a counter-intuitive way – it’s the dream that’s the only comfort to hold onto.

And, you likewise learn to never leave anyone because you don’t want her or him to know the pain that you’ve known. Yes, everyone’s going to promise to be by you till the end, but who dare live up to it? You will live up to it because you won’t be like him.

And, then there is her, your own child, and as a broken man, there’s something remarkably whole about you in that single role, where your pieces come back together, and you see everyone around you in the sunlight of spring. It’s inexplicable that where only destruction has been, beauty emerges – a single flower among ravaged woods. And, you realize that the injustice of not having a father is corrected by being a father – the better man, you are for it all.

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