About a month ago, I was cutting up squash on the kitchen island, prepping for a nice dinner.
Maya was feeding our new baby girl Bellamy in the living room. We had just finished making some vacation plans for my upcoming birthday and she called out to me with a question I was not prepared to answer.
“Hey babe? What do you want to do for Father’s Day this year?”
For a moment, I was confused. Why would she ask me that? Why would we make plans for that day? I hadn’t celebrated that day in 10 years, since my dad died.
Then it hit me. I was a father now. This would be my Father’s Day.
In an instant, tears started running down my face faster than my brain could comprehend what happened. It was completely and utterly a physical reaction beyond my control. All I could do was laugh at myself because it was so clear that this question took me to a place I hadn’t been before. Maya stared in disbelief, unsure of what to do.
Nothing could have illustrated the cycle of life more.
Since 2007, I’d buried any real meaning of that holiday along with my father. See, my birthday is on June 16th and that always falls very close to, and many times on the actual day of, Father’s Day. Typically, we’d be on a family vacation at our river cottage and celebrate my birthday and my dad’s day together over the weekend. But it was tough celebrating that day with my father. Most of the time he’d be drunk and we’d be feigning our way through the facade of loving, nuclear family — propped up by my mother’s desire to live in the “American Dream” with a white picket fence. That was not our reality.
But as time went on and my dad put the bottle down, we started having the type of father/son relationship young boys wish for. I looked forward to that weekend where we’d share the spotlight. My dad, brother, and I took our own vacations and made new memories that covered the old ones like a fresh coat of paint on an old house.
In 2006, one year before my dad would pass, I worked at the Festival of the Book held at Duke University. Among the amazing writers in attendance was the author of my dad’s favorite book, The Great Santini (Ironic, huh? Or maybe not so much.), Pat Conroy. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a story based on Pat’s father, a Marine Corps colonel that referred to himself at “The Great Santini” and treated his children as if they were lowly privates in his battalion. It was an abusive and unforgiving childhood for Pat, as it was for my father.
At the book festival, I was managing the book signing venue, so I got to meet all the authors. Pat Conroy sat there for hours until every book was signed (as he was famously known for). After the line was done, the workers got the chance to get their books signed and of course I got him to sign The Great Santini for my dad. Mr. Conroy carried himself with the character and grace of a true southern gentleman.
Pat Conroy fought the demons that ran rampant in his bloodline and tried to be a better father, as did Bob Bennett. I’m sure Pat failed at times, but I know my dad failed most of his attempts. And now, here I am: picking up the sword to fight them myself. I will fail less often, I hope. Perhaps as each generation passes, we get better. I’d like to think that.
My dad died the next year on June 11th, six days before Father’s Day and five days before my birthday (exactly like this year, as it happens). My brothers and I went ahead with the planned celebration we had all looked forward to — three sons now without a father. It wasn’t the same and I haven’t celebrated a Father’s Day since.
But right now, I am packing for my first vacation with my new family. I want to cry just writing this. I’m so filled with love for my “home team,” as I call them, and I can’t wait to start this new cycle. This weekend, I will celebrate the combined joy of my birth and fatherhood once again.
I am grateful.
About a month or so ago, I found the old copy of The Great Santini I’d given my dad. In it, used as a bookmark, was a torn piece of loose-leaf paper with the words that Pat Conroy had signed — written in my dad’s handwriting, so he could remember it, I presume.
It read: “To Bob, In the Line of Fathers.”
Perhaps I’ll take it with me to the beach.
Rain Bennett is a two time Emmy-nominated filmmaker, fitness professional, public speaker, and writer. His mission is simple: to help people realize that they too can be great, no matter where they come from or what they start with. It just takes passion, persistence, and a plan.
Bennett directed and produced his first feature length documentary in true indie fashion by traveling the world with only a backpack and a Canon DSLR camera. That film, Raise Up: The World is Our Gym won “Best of the Fest” at the Hip Hop Film Festival NYC and received global distribution through Red Bull Media House. He’s been featured in publications like Men’s Health and Sports Business Global and is a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle. When he’s not making movies or training clients at Sync Studio in Durham, he’s hosting a new webseries called The Perfect Workout Show.