At dinner on the eve of my wedding, my father asked me what I would do differently in my “first marriage” than he did in his. I wanted to snidely ask which marriage he meant, but knew he was talking about my mother. “I’d listen more,” I said. “And I’d venture to be present, always.”
We shared a moment and he said, “Your mother has always been so close to your sister and I have always been so close to you because your mother and I each yearned for ‘love.’ My thinking is that my father and mother were very happy together, perhaps always ‘in love,’ and so they did not desperately need the love of their children.”
I thought of Noel and my fiancée and our future together. I wanted to tell my father that my one true goal in marriage, of true love, was never divorce. Until then I had seen the divorce as a black mark on our family’s history. To me it had meant that my father was not loving, but rather self-serving. What I failed to notice was that while he and my mother had split, he kept the flame of our family’s love alive not in marriage, but through his travels.
In the coming years he flew to see me while working in London, offered to host me at his apartment in Miami, and traveled to Normandy to accept a journalism award on my behalf. I was attending my cousin’s wedding at the time and could not attend the ceremony. His attendance made him my virtual appendage, a constant companion, being there whenever or wherever I needed him.
So for his wedding I prepared a speech. It was about time, about how he channeled his love through me, his son. It was about how I would travel with my wife, then pregnant, on a plane, three trains and a taxi to reach the boat on which my father and stepmother would be married. It was about the way his love followed me and now mine follows my father, the way I hope my son, now 3 months old, will reciprocate my love for him.
Most of all, the speech was about how I came to his wedding with my own family. My sense of home and place and belonging and family resided not within four walls but, like my father’s, at their side wherever they are.