It’s 20 years this week since Dad died.
I have two work appointments scheduled that day, and as I entered the meetings on my calendar I stumbled a little but acted like the adult I am and said of course that day is fine.
It’s not like I can ride it out by hiding under the covers all day, though that is exactly what I would rather do.
It is, in fact, the opposite of what Al Sommerfeld would let you do. He was up before 5 a.m. every day, and groused to my mother all through our teen years if we slept beyond 8.
It didn’t matter what shift you’d worked, how late you’d been out or if your homework was done. Kids that slept till noon were lazy. If my mother succeeded in stopping him from knocking on our bedroom doors, he counterpunched by mowing the lawn or drilling something beneath our windows. Sneaky, Dad.
He was a tangle of things, as a man and as a father. He was determined to give us what he hadn’t had; where he’d received a kick back, he wanted us to have a step up.
But buried deep in that calculus was the niggling thought that his toughness, his mettle, were a result of those kicks. He was torn, and wanted to pass on his fortitude but not his damage. I now know it is impossible to separate the two. I absorbed my father’s pain and anger through osmosis as surely as I received his love and pride.
It’s my favourite season, the fall. It meant school and new beginnings.
For Dad, it was the wind-down of his garden and his cottage: the only places he felt unburdened, uncompromised. I long hated him for taking this from me, for staining the time of year that was my most unburdened, most uncompromised, until I accepted that it is wise to reflect from another vantage point, the proverbial mile in another’s shoes. It’s a valuable lesson he taught me after his death, and I still resent the cost.
Winter caged him, whereas I happily burrow in. I may have inherited many of his blown mental synapses, but where I try to find creativity and introspection amidst times of instability or hurt, he found only the terrifying fall until he could once again regain his feet. He would swing an axe until he could no longer lift his arms, forcing his body to physically quit in an effort to shut down his mind. I’ve found other ways to court my demons, and if we’d had a chance to grow older together, I think we might have helped each other.
Or I could be romanticizing it all, of course. Death lets you do that. You can fill in the silences with words of endearment, allow time to iron out the wrinkles of being raised by — and adoring — a difficult, broken man.
Except I’ve always known these things about my father. I struggled with it during his lifetime and I continue to struggle with it in mine. I covet his wisdom like a shiny marble, I seek out signs of him in my children like a genetic treasure hunt for diamonds. Death does not remove you from the equation as long as the people who loved you continue to solve for the unknown.
I miss you Dad, I miss you every damned day. You twine through my work like the ivy you never wanted that I planted anyway.
I recently found a set of your cufflinks, and gave them to Ari, the grandson who was barely 2 when you died.
They have an A engraved on them.