My dad loved my husband. So much so that I like to think he would be pissed at me if I spent this upcoming Father’s Day mourning the loss of my own father instead of celebrating the fact that it will be his son-in-law’s first Father’s Day as the father of his granddaughter. That being said, I’ll share this today. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a while but couldn’t find the words… until this morning.
Sometimes the thought that people may have forgotten about him makes my heart ache.
In my life, I’ve been to a number of funeral homes for calling hours, churches for funerals, cemeteries for burials. The next day, or in the days that follow, life returned to normal. I’d gone about my business, gone back to work or school and generally just moved on with my life. Flowers were sent, sympathy cards written, tears shed, respects paid. As selfish or as cold as it may sound, I know you know what I’m talking about. No matter your relationship with the deceased or the family of the deceased, death is distant… until it’s not.
Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine that I would be 32 years old, sitting in my sunny living room in South Carolina, seven months pregnant and opening a package from my parents filled with baby gifts, and that I would get a phone call at that moment from Dad telling me that he had received a surprise diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. Or that a quick three months later, after surgery and rehab and radiation, a million pills and finger pricks and trips to and from the hospital, and just after meeting his new granddaughter, that he would be gone. Just like that.
Yet here I am. Over seven months have passed since the day he died. Soon it will be a year. And yet there are still days where it doesn’t seem real. In fact, I feel like vivid memories of him come more frequently now, at random times of day when I’m least expecting them, like an unexpected punch to the gut, just enough to make my heart burn and my eyes water.
When I give Lennon a bath, I remember how Dad used to run the edge of the washcloth between our toes when we were little and send us into fits of giggles. I smooth lotion on her soft little body and I’m reminded of how Dad relished a good foot rub and how one of the only ways I knew to comfort him in the hospital was by massaging his hands and feet. On an early morning jog, I’m stopped in my tracks by a great blue heron standing solemnly in my path, and I think of the times Dad would drive us down to the valley to see where the herons had built their nests high in the bare trees. When B.B. King passed away on May 14, I thought of the time Dad drove down to O.U. while I was a student there and we saw B.B. King live at one of the auditoriums on campus. Every now and then, I get a craving for Bombay Darbar, the best little Indian restaurant within walking distance of our tiny loft apartment in Coconut Grove, and I think of the time Dad visited us in Miami and we took him there, how he was a little reluctant to try it at first, but then raved about the food for weeks – months – afterwards. Whenever I get dressed up or put on a certain lipstick or pair of earrings, I can’t help but smile and think of how, when I lived at home, I used to come down the hall all dressed up for a date or an event or something, and Dad would be there on the couch and would look up from his newspaper and say, “You look so pretty!” Tim comes up behind me at the kitchen counter for a kiss and I smile and think of how Dad would do the same to Mom – my heart surges to think that we get to be an example of a sweet and loving relationship for Lennon, just the way my parents were for me. Every day when stare down at my handful of supplements, I think of the dozens of pills Dad had to take several times a day, and how he laughed so hard the first time I served them up in a Jack Daniels shot glass. When Lennon grabs at my lips or my nostrils or my nose ring, I think of how she would’ve grabbed at Dad’s moustache, and how, without a doubt, he would’ve made her laugh by pretending to chomp her little fingers. The exterminator we called to take care of an ant problem last week showed up (straight out of 1979) with a smile and, upon hearing Lennon’s name, proceeded to talk our ears off about the Beatles and Woodstock and what other legendary rock concerts he’d been to in his life. Neil Young or CSNY plays in every grocery, department, home improvement, and specialty store. I sing The Baby Tree (Jefferson Starship) to Lennon every single day (since she was born!) because it’s a song Dad used to play on his guitar and sing to my sister and I when we were kids, and it cracks me up that, every time, her whole face lights up when she hears me start with “There’s an island way out in the seeeea…” – Dad would LOVE that. I’ve woken up with Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven or Stevie Nicks’ Landslide, or Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl in my head… and I know it’s because Dad put it there while I slept. Memorial Day radio broadcasts wouldn’t have been complete without playing Taps… and though it’s a song I’ve heard a million times before, it now lives as a soundtrack to the memory of sitting in the back of a black limousine, nursing a three-week old Lennon while everyone else stood outside in the frigid Ohio winter and saluted my father’s life and death. When I nurse and cuddle Lennon in the middle of the night, sometimes my heart feels heavy because it’s in these silent moments in the dark that I remember saying goodbye, how quick it was and the ache I feel for not hugging him a little tighter or longer, the regret I will forever feel for not bringing my week-old baby into the hospital for him to hold because the pediatrician advised against it, and the ocean of tears Tim and I shed in the hallway outside his hospital room, knowing, but not really knowing, that… that was it.
Fuck. I just ran out of Kleenex.
I woke up this morning at 2am with the name Keb Mo in my head. It was just strange enough because, though I know he was a Blues artist my dad was fond of, or had at least mentioned a few times, I’m not familiar with his music at all, definitely not enough to wake up in the middle of the night with his name in my head. It prompted me to search and listen to a handful of his songs on Spotify and when I came across Every Morning, I knew – I knew! – it was the one Dad wanted me to find and to listen to. The only thing that’s missing is the history lesson about Keb Mo that Dad undoubtedly knew and would’ve felt obligated to share… guess I’ll have to do my own research to fill the gap.
Mom, Rachel, if you’re reading this… this is for us, from Dad.
Dad… In my wildest imagination, I could never imagine you lovin’ me as much as I do you. Happy Father’s Day.