This photo of my son-in-law and grandson, taken a few years ago, epitomizes fatherhood to me. The real deal.
In just a few days, Father’s Day will be here, a staple of June each year. For some, it will be a celebration, a unification of family ties. For others, it will be a day of fond remembrances of a father who has passed. For still others, like me, it will be a day of questions for which there are no answers.
My father is not even a shadowy figure in my past. I never met him. I know he died when I was a child. For a relative came up to me when I was about eight or nine and whispered, "Your father died."
My father? I had a father?
There are all kinds of ways children get separated from their parents. Divorce, death, natural disasters. Abandonment.
Adoption is another. For many mothers of a certain era, to be unwed and pregnant was a shameful secret. A young woman having a baby out of wedlock was secreted away to a relative’s home (or home for unwed mothers). There she had her baby privately. And upon that baby’s birth, he or she was whisked away in the blurry aftermath of laboring. Many times, she did not even see or touch the child. Then, later in life, some of the mothers finally reunite with their offspring. And there, finally, is a joyous conclusion.
But to sell a child sounds despicable and immoral. Who on earth would have such reckless disregard for human life, you ask yourself?
Yet it happens, even today.
For instance, in Afghanistan, many men have spent their lifetimes raising opium, as it is the only reliable cash crop most farmers have ever had.
It began for a man named Sayed Shah, a functionally illiterate Afghan farmer with ten children, when he borrowed $2000. He promised to repay the loan with 24 kilos of opium at harvest time. But just before harvest, a government crop-eradication team appeared at the family’s little plot of land and destroyed Shah’s entire two and a half acres of poppies. Unable to meet his debt, he took his family and fled. The trafficker found him anyway and demanded his opium. Shah took his case before a tribal council and begged for leniency. But the elders unanimously ruled that Shah would have to reimburse the trafficker by giving one of his daughters to him in marriage. These girls are called "loan brides." Daughters given in marriage by fathers who have no other way out of debt. For a desperate farmer, that bride price can be salvation – but at a cruel and irretrievable cost.
In my case, where the illusive black market for babies has played a tawdry role, I likely will never know why. Why a couple, married and with one daughter already, would for some reason trade their second baby daughter for cash, and then walk away. Was it depravity or desperation? I have asked myself all of those things. Come up with answers that sound, on the face of things, "reasonable."
I look at the one photo I have of my father and mother. From time to time, I take it out of the box where I keep it. I search into my threshold of memory and try to see the face that belongs to the hand that gave it to me. But I can’t see who it is. That memory is distant and gone.
I stare down at this photo of my parents, and wonder if I can find some semblance of an answer in the way he rests his arm over her shoulder. The way she smiles so broadly into the camera, full of anticipation, on the day of her wedding.
I peer closely at this photo blurred by time and my fingers touching it, and I look for me. I think perhaps I see myself somewhere in the depths of his dark eyes. Or her high cheekbones. But I’m not sure…
But back to this photograph, which started me wondering all this in the first place…
This boy, sitting high on his father’s broad, capable shoulders, now four and a half years old, will never have to wonder. Or worry. Or look for his identity in a box of old photographs. This I know for sure.
If I’ve never yet thanked this man, my son-in-law of nearly ten years, I want to do so now. For when I travel to visit them, I see such pure, unadulterated love in his eyes for this boy, my grandson. I watch them "rough and tumble" about the house, these two who are bound by all that is good and enduring. And I know this dark-haired, good-looking man will always be there for him in every conceivable way.
On this day, I put the old photo, the one that has evoked so many emotions over so many years, back in the box where it belongs. In a few days, on Father’s Day, I will sit down in my reading chair, miles away in my garden room here in Texas, and feel instantly soothed by this image of the two of them. This boy and his father. And feel content and at peace. For I know that some questions simply have no answers. But this photo; this for me is what Father’s Day is all about.