If I am not mistaken Dad and I got to spend about 46 Father’s Days together, more than a decade worth of those came after I became a father.
Not to mention the chunk in which my grandfathers joined us and though I was low man on the totem pole I never tired of watching the sheer joy and glee in their three faces as they played with their great/grandchildren.
In the early years I sometimes caught my grandfathers smiling more at my dad, the newest grandfather and watch them exchange some kind of knowing look I expect to one day understand, but not too soon.
Those moments feel far away and long ago and in some ways they are exactly that as the children who made us parents and grandparents are in college or are on the verge of it and even the youngest are well past the days when we wondered what it meant to parent teenagers.
Tonight I stare at the far end of the dining room table where my father always sat and wonder what adventures lie ahead of me and remember how I suspected that last year might be the last Father’s Day in which I could call or spend in person with my dad.
I imagine the wolf in the photo above is howling because the wolf he loves best is far away and he is calling out to her, hoping he’ll hear a voice join his and know she has rejoined the pack.
Or maybe she has left forever and he is notifying the world of his sadness while simultaneously defying its push to assimilate and be an automaton who does what society demands regardless of its impact upon his wolfish mental health.
Dad and I had a conversation a long while back in which I told him I appreciated wolves because I could run with a pack and be content as the loner.
I told him I loved him and that I appreciated everything he did for all of us and for me. I told him he made me crazy and that he pushed too hard and came at me the wrong way.
He shrugged his shoulders at me and said he wasn’t perfect.
I remember nodding my head and telling him my kids would have a list of shit I did wrong and that it might be far longer than the one I had for him.
“Don’t worry about it. You’re a good father.”
“You’re supposed to say that. I want them to say it but I am not asking for that validation now, if ever. I’ll see what kind of people they turn into and know I did something right…maybe.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, you can only do your best.”
I smiled and told him he was responsible for some of that.
“I can be ridiculously blunt, maybe offensively blunt. You’re partially to blame for that, but not completely. I control my tongue.”
We smiled at each other sat quietly.
“Dad, what the hell am I supposed to do when you are gone. You know you’re defaulting on a promise you made to me when I was little. You said you’d be around as long as I needed you. What if I still need you?”
I almost felt guilty leaning on him like that. Almost felt guilty that I wasn’t acting like a man pushing fifty and was letting myself be the son for a moment.
He sighed and told me I’d figure it out the same way he had and grandpa and my great grandfather had.
“Take care of your mom and your sisters. Look out for my grandchildren.”
It wasn’t a request and I understood that.
Dad didn’t ignore sons or daughter-in-laws with his words either, they were all important. It was and is up to me how I interpret and follow up on it.
When I was around 20 I drove up to San Francisco to spend a weekend hanging out with my dad’s little brother.
My grandfather had been a traveling salesman and was frequently on the road. Grandpa once told me how prior to going on another business trip he sat my dad down and told him he was the man of the house.
“I told him to listen to his mother and to make sure the chores got done. He took me seriously.”
I asked my uncle about it and he said grandpa hadn’t exaggerated about how seriously my father had taken his instructions and how he had been overly enthusiastic about helping my uncle understand that.
When I laughed my uncle told me I was laughing as a big brother and said my younger sisters probably didn’t appreciate me laughing that way.
“I am sure they didn’t, but I am not laughing about that. I am laughing because I know you understand what a pain-in-the-ass my dad can be about doing chores the right way.
If you didn’t do it the way he thought it should be done you will hear about it.”
I can still see the smile on my uncle’s face.
“Your dad is pretty serious about some things.”
I still don’t remember everything that happened at dad’s funeral or the days before and after.
There are some gaps in my memory that irk me because I feel like I ought to remember, like everything should be burned into mem0ry banks forever.
Some of the gaps used to be larger and as time has passed the memories have come and filled in a few of the blanks.
I can’t remember if I wrote his eulogy down or if it was just notes. I tend to lean towards notes and that I spoke primarily off the top of my head.
Sometimes I struggle with that because I don’t know if I spoke as eloquently or honestly as I wanted to but I always knew it would bother me regardless.
There is no way I could distill what my father meant to all of us into a five or ten minute speech. If I said he loved us and we loved him that would cover it in a way that would satisfy him provided he knew we were satisfied.
But I wrestle with it because sometimes I think he deserved better than that, but most of the time I just shrug my shoulders and ignore my concern there because I don’t believe he would have really cared.
He didn’t need the accolades.
So if you ask me about dad I might tell you that he was a Virgo who made endless lists and crossed items off of said lists.
I might tell you he would make mom crazy because he would organize things and figure out a better way and do it again.
He could do that endlessly…organize.
Sometimes I would ask him why he didn’t do it right the first time and laugh as he glared at me.
“Dad, you always tell me to do it right the first time. Why haven’t you.”
Those bright blue eyes would go icy and he would call me a smart-ass and point out a new tool for organizing that made the difference.
Maybe it was a new cabinet or an addition to a cabinet that made it easier to stack or fit more items.
Maybe it was an an app that would help keep track of the things in your pantry so that you would know when food might expire and help you remember to use those things.
Or maybe he just liked the feeling of organizing and checking things off of his lists.
My kids and niece, nephews have all sorts of stories about grandpa. They smile and laugh when they tell them and sometimes they say they know exactly how he would respond or act in some situations.
I smile when they talk about him and sometimes I laugh when they say how he would act because they might have known grandpa, but I knew dad.
Guess I am already doing as he advised and figuring out life and its challenges without him. I spent years trying to prove I didn’t need his advice, but I sure wouldn’t mind it now.
I miss you dad, see you when I go back or something like that.