Sunday, June 17, 2012

On Father's Day...

It's been 5 years since the Canton Journal published this Father's Day piece of mine, just months after the death of my dad. It still rings true, so I share it with you here today. To all my dad friends out there, have a wonderful day.

This will be my first Father's Day without my father.  He died in January, on my birthday, after a long decline from heart disease.  After 48 years of greeting cards and phone calls, Aramis and neckties, it’s time to find a new way to celebrate this most important man in my life on this designated day.
I've been doing my crying and mourning, as well as celebrating and laughing (thanks to great memories), all a tribute to his unique character and our deeply strong bond.
Our relationship, tight from the start, was tempestuous. Dad had a temper and when I was a child his primary method of communicating displeasure was screaming and yelling. 
His round face would get red, his eyes could bulge and I, quite young, was scared to death—and confused. This same man could also be full of fun and humor, delivering to my brother and me hugs and kisses, cheek squeezes and “push-downs” at night when we would go to bed. A “push-down” consisted of tickling and, when we would laugh so hard we wanted to escape, he would, gently, push us down, back into the bed and pillows. 
Never afraid to say, “I love you,” he said so often, especially in his later years, when we were acutely aware of the gift of each day together.
After revealing to him and my mother that I had been abused at the age of 7 by a long deceased friend of theirs, he showed sides of himself that, even after all our years together, I had never seen. 
One afternoon, when I was feeling particularly sad, he sat quietly with me on my aunt’s couch and I laid my head on his chest, something in all my life I couldn’t remember doing. We sat and sat, sometimes talking, sometimes not, and I felt comforted. Other times, he would simply hold my hand, and the feel of his skin, in particular, the nuance of that space just above his thumb, above the crevice between thumb and forefinger, remains vibrant in my memory. In fact, these two particular memories, sense memories, as actors call them, became my biggest sources of solace after he died. When I would wake in the middle of the night filled with pain and anxiety that I would never see him again, I would eventually imagine myself being held by him and holding his hand, and I could sleep. He himself was comforting me in the loss of him.
Two weeks before he died, he called my cell and left a particularly long message, one that encompassed so much of his personality. There was humor and pathos (as he lamented his declining health), as well as several various expressions of his love for me and my family. I have never erased this message, nor will I, and every 21 days, when my voicemail service reminds me that I have "one message whose retention time has expired,” I gear up to hear him again. For months I could only cry when I listened, but just the other day I found myself beaming at hearing his voice calling, “hello” in his unique, aging tone. 
Several days after his death and my birthday, the mail arrived containing the greeting card he and my mom had sent. He had never before written his own separate message in their cards, but this time he had, and there, in his handwriting was his own expression of good wishes and love, infused with a cheerleader-like celebration of me, his daughter, of whom he was so proud.
And so, on this latest Father’s Day, I think I will honor him, and him and me, by reopening the gifts he gave me before he died. I will listen to my message, read my birthday greeting, feel him holding my hand and my head and, of course, my heart. A little whiff of Aramis, maybe a bite of his favorite food, a hot dog, and the day will be complete. Though desperately sad that I will not be able to call him and speak of today, I will embrace yesterday and make the day, and his memory, shine.

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