I glance at his picture in my sanctum, black-and-white, as he measures some piece of something in a workshop at Ma Bell. That signature small smile he’d get on his face when someone was watching him perform some task he could do well. I ache sometimes to step through that picture and give him a hug, one last hug the way only my dad could give a hug.
Radiating heat and love, hugging my dad was something that never wore out. I can remember the smell of his hair, as weird as that might sound. I can remember how the hugs felt differently on holidays like Christmas when he was a little happier with the world.
But today was the first time that I really thought about how long it’s been since he died. And the trigger was, strangely enough, the announcement of Star Wars Episode VII‘s title, The Force Awakens. As an historical note, they announced the release date at this time last year.
The memory of my father’s death will always be attached to Star Wars because the “sequel trilogy” was announced shortly before he died. I was in Chicago for work, and one of the first things I did was call him to talk about how he, I and my kids would all go see it together (since he started my fandom as a kid, I was really looking forward to it). Oh, how life can change so quickly.
While I’ve made no secret of wishing for my mother’s counsel at certain times since she died, I don’t think I’ve fairly credited my father for all he quietly did to prop up his youngest son. There are things times I still don’t talk about where his direct help is what kept me from losing my way. These things always remained only between him and me, and now they will remain only in me.
He loved to talk (sorry, I picked that one up too) and he was frighteningly brilliant at times. He had an insight that could cut through all the layers of pretense to the true meaning of something. He possessed no monumental degrees, but once he learned something he could drop knowledge bombs on you out of nowhere. He inadvertantly bred an innate lack of deference for advanced degrees in his sons, I think. He learned because he loved it and didn’t care if he ever got letters after his name.
The mark of my father in my life now is when I catch myself imparting wisdom to my kids the same way he imparted it to me. If you were to say, stub your toe, my father’s advice would be to tell you that maybe you should be more careful where you’re walking. If he had written a self-help book, I suspect it would have been called I Guess You Should Have Thought That Out Better.
But my personal favorites were his nuggets of humorous wisdom. For example, if I’d hurt myself in some minor way, this exchange would happen.
“Ha! God got you back.”
“I don’t know. But whatever you did, He got you for it.”
Occasionally he’d then remind me that it was what his folks said to him.
But what is unavoidably burned in my mind is how he’d wiggle his eyebrows with a little smirk and, so help me, a twinkle in his eye.
These sort of things were why it was impossible to stay mad at him, at least for me. I suspect that he passed on this sort of “charm mode” as a survival instinct that I roll out from time to time myself.
He loved to laugh, and was mercurial at times, as I am, as his own father was. My father was gentle and loving. He was capable of great frustrating moments. Sometimes his happiness was the beacon to guide your way through the long dark night. He had an artistic streak but chose a path that provided as opposed to one that exercised it.
But his love was absolute, all encompassing and I never thought for a second that my father wanted anything less than my happiness. It’s why I can’t watch some scenes in movies, like when Pa Kent dies in Superman: The Movie, without weeping.
In short, my father was a complex package.
And I really think that’s what separates my relationship with my father from the one I had with my mother.
Mom died before I could do anything but Saint her in my heart and lionize her in my words. My father and I got to relate to each other as men, who both had established families and mortgages and experienced grief. It’s a totally different sort of existence when you can share those sorts of experiences.
Still, as well as I knew him in life, I know that there are things that will remain unknown until I speak with him on the other side of the light. I’m in no rush to get there, but I hope that when I do he’ll have seen the new Star Wars movies and we can talk about them at length.
Because it won’t be Heaven if a son can’t cuddle next to his father and talk about silly things.
I miss you Dad, I love you and I promise you that I will make you proud.