In my box of Random Cards for All Occasions, there’s a card with a cartoon of an orange cat in a hat, making an A-OK sign with its paw-fingers, with the words, “Dad, you’re one of a kind!” Inside it says, “So if I’m a little unusual myself, remember I got it from you! Happy Father’s Day.” I signed and addressed it, probably at least two years ago. So last year, when I could see his death coming, why didn’t I send it?
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. I peel something in the kitchen and hear him telling me to cut away from, not toward myself. Or telling me that cast iron skillet needs conditioning. Or asking me if I’ve oiled Mom’s old sewing machine lately. Or, way back in the thin grad school days, asking me if I was financially embarrassed before slipping me a couple of twenties. I go to my community garden plot and wish I could ask him what he’d do about those aphids on the tomatoes, what he’d plant now that it’s too hot for the spinach to thrive.
The worst thing about my iPhone’s recent drowning accident is that I lost those remaining voicemails from him. Never mind that I hadn’t actually listened to them in months, and can hear them in my mind’s ear, all coming on a Friday morning, all starting, “This is your daddy,” looking for me for our weekly phone date.
I took after Mom in lots of ways. It’s only in the last couple of years that I have been considering how Dad and I were alike, what I might have gotten from him. I had started a list. This is what I read at his funeral 10 months ago.
We have the same face, the same blue eyes and droopy eyelids.
We have the same blood type.
For some time now I’ve been thinking about how I am made in my father’s image. Not God’s, but Frank’s. One way we are alike is that we both procrastinate about some things, so I never got around to asking him how he thought I took after him.
We both liked peanut butter and bacon sandwiches on wheat toast, because that’s what he made us for breakfast on Saturday mornings when Mom would sleep in. Also potato chips, root beer, maple candy and apple cider.
We both can become lost in thought and oblivious to our surroundings, like the Saturday morning we watched TV and I got my watercolor set and painted his face like a pirate’s and he didn’t realize it until he saw himself in the mirror. He was the kind of dad who laughed at it instead of getting mad.
We both can be observant and attentive to small things others wouldn’t notice, like the day at the soup kitchen where he volunteered, when the little girl in a family didn’t want to eat, and sat plateless with her family, and he saw and gently persuaded her to accept a plate.
We both feed hummingbirds, although his sugar to water ratio is more generous than mine.
We both love to sing.
Memories of him are flooding back, and all I can do right now is offer some of those.
It was a bonding experience when he taught me to drive, during all those rides on freeways and back roads in the car together.
When I was in high school, some of my friends had crushes on him.
He came to all my band concerts, and to all my games the one year I played basketball, even though I spent most of my time on the bench.
For the past four years, we have had a weekly phone date on Friday mornings. He was especially interested in my bread baking on those days, and he was full of good advice about what to do differently if it turned out funny.
He was easy to be with.
It took me too long to understand that his teasing was a form of affection.
I did ask him what he remembered about my birth, and he told me the first time he saw me, it was striking because he saw his own face.
When I look in the mirror now, I’ll see his. And though I won’t hear his side of the conversation, I’ll still be talking to him on Friday mornings.
Yeah, I know there’s a problem with verb tense in some of those. But as far as I know, there is no verb tense to accommodate a situation where there’s a plural subject and the verb is present for part, past for the other part. So instead of burying myself in the past with him, I’ll keep him in the present with me.
And you, whether your dad is still here or gone, whether you had or have a good relationship or a bad one or one in transition, I hope you let yourself feel what you feel today. If you can call or see your dad, I hope you do. If you can’t, I hope you find one good memory — maybe even one good imprint of your father on you — and hold onto it. If you’d like, in the comments, tell me about it.
The #GiveMeGrace community at Lisha Epperson’s blog.