Let me begin by saying that Father’s Day, though my father has only been gone thirteen years, does not make me sad. That’s not why I’m writing. I realized this Father’s Day how little I write about him, and I wondered why.
I wish it were simple – I wish it was because he was mine and I didn’t want anyone else to have him, like I am still four years old and having a tantrum. (The truth is that when I think of my father I am generally around 20 years old, tender and eager, needing and not needing him all at once. He is right where I need him to be, which is to say, within reach, but not holding my hand.)
It’s not that I want to keep him to myself, though.
It’s just that when I write about someone I love I want to get it exactly right. So far, it’s been easier for me to avoid writing about things that are harder to say. I admire memoirists, but I just don’t seem to have that gene that allows me to delve into painful subjects and stay there, wringing out every scathing or excruciating detail. I can’t live in that space. I seemed to have stood in line on my way to earth with hand out for that one, only to be bopped on the head and told to get on with my badass self.
Also, it’s this. When I write the truth, the fear of ridicule is so great and overpowering that it paralyzes me.
Fiction is different, obviously. Non-fiction is as raw and exposed as a writer can be.
Still, here goes.
Before he died, my father promised me that he would communicate with me if he could – from the other side. We talked a lot in those days, and he shared that he just didn’t know if there was an afterlife. He said he’d let me know. We’d laughed a little.
On the night he died, the sky was overcast. Music played softly from the computer speakers in the corner, had been playing thusly all afternoon, and we surrounded his bed, taking turns holding his hands. When he took his last breath, one tear fell down his cheek and he gasped. Now I know the science behind both of these phenomenon – but at the time it seemed to me he had glimpsed the most beautiful of things, and was relieved.
He was gone. Slowly, we said our goodbyes, made appropriate phone calls and peeled ourselves away from his bed and his body. His pastor had stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, a ritual they shared on countless occasions. He called me from the front yard excitedly. I went outside. Look! he said and pointed upwards at the clouds.
A break had occurred in the cloud cover, showing blue sky beyond. The break was clearly in the shape of an outstretched angel. I covered my mouth with my hand and stifled a sob. And just at that moment, a shooting star dashed through the shape of the angel.
He had said goodbye. The pastor and I looked at each, at the sky, at each other again. Goodbye, Jim! he yelled, and slowly, the clouds filled in.
We were tired. It was nearing midnight. We carried ourselves back inside the house, met with the coroner and the ambulance crew. I asked someone to turn off the music – it was distracting and loud. But the speaker was already off, someone said, the cords completely unplugged. The music had been playing from nowhere. And everywhere. From someone, somewhere. In the busyness of the next hour, it stopped playing and we hardly noticed at all.
When I miss my father, which is daily, I think of this night: February 25, 2002. I think of his hug, and his piercing blue-eyed stare, and his sharp intelligence. And I am sad only for my children not to have known him – and about the fact that if I don’t write it all down, they never will. Capturing him on paper is like the shooting star he became – but I will continue to try.
He is within reach, in my memories. He can no longer hold my hand, but he is here – and on another day, in another entry, I will tell you how I know. What I wanted for today was to say Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and to know with certainty that he hears me.