I am losing him.
Each subsequent year, I forget a little more—the smell of his Old Spice, the shimmer off his salt and pepper hair, the way he’d lose his dentures and we’d have to rerun our errands or dig through trash cans. The sound of his voice and the way he could whistle. Man, could my dad whistle. I’ve never heard another soul whistle the way Dad could. He loved to stand at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement in my childhood home and whistle while he shined his shoes to impeccable perfection. I think he taught himself during the war. What else is there to do inside a tank as you rumble across Germany? But I can't be positive because he never spoke of the war, and I never asked.
What I can’t seem to forget, no matter how hard I try, is the last time I saw him. I can’t wipe my memory clean, shake the Etch-A-Sketch of the image of him dead in his nursing home bed. I think he'd been dead for a while before anyone noticed. By the time I arrived, he looked deflated, as if his skin rested on top of him like a summer sheet. The radiance that had existed in him–even as he spiraled into dementia, as he forgot my name and then his own, when he became bedridden and hallucinatory–disappeared. There would be no more whistling, no more laughing, no more hearing his good-natured fake Irish brogue, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” There was just no more.
So on days like today, I pull out the albums and try to remember. I try to replace that image, refresh the picture of death with his life, and to remember what it was like when I could pick up the phone and say, "What do you think, Dad?"
Today, I found this one. It's an old snapshot of my family on my dad's side. That's my dad in back, in the red vest and giving the camera the finger. His sister, my Aunt Peggy, is there with her hands over her mouth, and that's my Uncle Richard in front in the blue sweater next to my mom who's telling us to "read between the lines." This photo is a cherished moment because that's how I grew up, surrounded by humor and thinking, It's okay to give the world the finger as long as we do it with a laugh.
I'd like to give the world the finger right now, no joke though. Seven of the people in this picture are dead. Here's the truth: forgetting is easier. It's easier to wake up each day and carry on without them. It's easier to cover up the grief with chores and trips to the doctor and by volunteering to sell quesadillas in the snack shack. It's easier to forget than to acknowledge how desperate I am to be able to say, just one more time, "I love you, Dad."
So–I love you, Dad. I miss you. I adore you. I understand how lucky I was to have you. I understand now that not every little girl grows up with a daddy who's also her hero. What's the composition of a little girl's hero? I'm sure each recipe is different, but mine was a dad who drew me perfect personalized Bugs Bunny cartoons, a dad that couldn't read a note of music but who played me perfect piano serenades, and a dad who taught me how to tie a tie, how to over-under-around-and-through the perfect Windsor knot. A hero slays the bad guys and puts his family first. He returns from some business trips with bouquets of carnations and doesn't go on others because he understands his priorities. He is a man whose human frailties pale in comparison for his daughter to his human compassions.
Not every little girl grows up with a daddy who's her hero, but I did and for that I am eternally grateful.
And for this year, 2017, I add an even older picture. Here we are, had to be1969, at the start of our little family of three which soon will be a family that should have been four but wasn't. There is no fallout in these faces, no grief, no lines of unmet expectations or sadness. There is no adult understanding in a happy baby's contentment. There is only joy, excitement, and loving. Youthful vitality. Today, this is the us I imagine when I remember my origin. This is our beginning and it made me me.
Happy Father's Day to all the dads I know. Oh how your children love you. I wish you a fun-filled day with heroic porportions of gratitude for all that you do for your family.