Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Letter to My Dad Ten Years Later

I was sixteen when you died.  Sixteen.  A fragile and fractured age, not well equipped for tragedy.  I was mad at you at the time.  That's the particularly cruel thing about losing a parent when you're a teenager; there's a good likelihood that you were mad about something that you would've gone on to quickly forget.  When you died, though, the sum of that day and time deposited itself into a time capsule such that I'll never forget what would've been an otherwise normal day.  I was so enmeshed with both you and mom as an only child, and with you two being divorced, that I never quite figured out where I ended and you all began.  With me and you, though, that separation was all the more fluid.  We looked out onto the world with similar eyes.  Partners.  We never had the 'you and me against the world' experience that galvanized me and Mom, but we knew without saying that we were cut from the same cloth.  Each with a skin that bruised easily and a desire to look as far within as we could see out. 

I was sixteen then and I'll be twenty-six next week.  You weren't there for my first broken heart, you weren't there for my graduation from high school, college, or law school.  You didn't walk me down the aisle.  None of my friends have ever met you. You don't know my husband and you'll never know my children.  I guess what makes me the most sad is that after my high school graduation, I stopped feeling your absense so acutely.  It seemed more like an incredible, abstract idea that you could've been there to begin with.   In all honesty, I can't imagine what it would feel like to say "Dad" to a living person and it not be a story about you or in reference to someone else.  Sometimes I say it in my head just to imagine what it would be like to call you on the phone.  What would I say? The space that you left was never filled, but my life has grown around it. 

Card from some old birthday flowers.

It's been ten years and no matter how hard I've tried, I've forgotten some things.  I have a lot of guilt about that because I know that there aren't a whole lot of people walking around with memories of you.  I wanted to be the bearer of all of those things.  You were a kind, smart, funny, deep feeling and thinking person and I feel a huge responsibility to make sure that those who love me and didn't know you, know that. 

For all of the things that I've forgotten, there are some things that I'll never forget. I can see the callouses on your fingertips from guitar strings and the way you raised your eyebrow when you sang.  I remember how you let me eat salted watermelon until I threw up every summer.  I remeber being a little bitty girl and you would hold me tight to your chest and rock me in the pool when I was learning to swim and would get water in my nose.  I remember all of your stories, fiction and non-fiction, even though you sold them all as true.  I remember when someone would tell me I was pretty you would always lean down and say, "That's true, but boo boo, pretty doesn't matter."  I remember that you made me mix tapes with Cat Stevens songs and I thought, like Superman, that he was really you because you looked like him.  I remember the time that I drove your car with my learner's permit and you were so proud.  I remember our walks in the woods when I was a teenager, how we'd talk for hours.  You'd tell me about growing up and what to expect.  A lot of the lessons you taught me were over my head at the time, but became my conscience and guidepost as I got older and didn't have you.  I remember how proud you were of me for being smart.  You taught me that I should never put stock in transient things.  Thank you for teaching me to seek an interesting and challenging life.  I remember the smell of your aftershave and the way you would toss me in the air when Alabama scored a touchdown.  I remember you putting your giant '70s ear phones on my head and letting me listen to records on the floor, but mostly I remember having to lay down because they weighed as much as me.  I remember how sad you looked when it was time for me to go home on Sunday.  I remember the sound of your car coming around the corner to pick me up on Friday.  I remember how you never could quite figure out how to fix my hair.  Bread ties don't make good ponytail holders, but I didn't mind.  I remember when you converted the walk-in closet in your apartment into a play room for me with pictures hung and all my toys.  As an adult, that gets me every time. I remember beaming with pride when you chaperoned my preschool trip to the zoo.  I remember giggling until I was dizzy.

The thing that I try to remember the most is what it felt like to be a father's daughter, his little girl.  That one slips away from me the most and is the hardest to remember.  That's the most precious.  If I'm not vigilant, a characature will take its place.  The version of you that's the result of my own telling and retelling and retelling of stories.  The you that's placed on the highest of pedestals.  None of those things are false, but they are definitely empty.  The you that smiled with the same smile as me and knew my thoughts better than I do, the one who loved me to my core, the you that I idolized from birth--that's the one I want to protect in my memory.

I hope that you would be as proud of me today as you were when you were here.  You're a frequent contributor on the playlist that is the voice in my head and my conscience.  I have married a man that is wonderfully (and frighteningly) like you.  He thinks that my quirks and my wit are my best qualities and he always pushes me to be better.  He is gentle and kind.  He never talks to hear is own voice and he would do anything for me.  Like you, he's leary of people he doesn't know, but feircely loyal and protective of the people he loves. His hands look like yours.  He loves me for all the things that I have been since I was a little girl.  I know you would love him too.  His football preferences leave something to be desired, but what I can do? 

I know you weren't a religious man, per se, but I hope that you have found the peace you so very much deserved.  Know that I'm happy, and that when I'm not, I'm working on it.  I think that's where I would have made you the most proud.  It might always make me a little sad to see a bride dance with her father. When I hear Melissa by the Allman Brothers, I'll always hear you sing.  I might never conquer my fiery indignation and I'll probably always be a bit of a softy, but all in all I'm a pretty happy girl. This letter could never convey what is and what's lost, but I know that even when my words fail me and my meaning is part image and part emotion, you would still know me, even in the dark.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry everyone. I don't know why blogspot puts weird, irrelevant, links on some of the words. I promise that's not my strange way of plugging something.