It catches me by surprise. A Bob Dylan song. The slam of a door. The silhouette of a hot air balloon against an orange sky. Brunch.
It’s never the things I expect that make my grief bubble up and make the tears pool, threatening to fall.
This will be the fifth Father’s Day since my dad died, and I am finally understanding that while he will be on my mind that day, I won’t cry. The same goes for his birthday, Christmas, and the anniversary of his death. Throughout the past five years, these are all days I expected to mourn him intensely. I dreaded the arrival of the important occasions, steeling myself for the sadness his absence would bring. My worries were misguided.
The true gut punch is hearing his favorite music on the radio.
It’s the rage I feel when my kids slam their bedroom doors, the same reaction he had when I slammed my door over 20 years ago.
It’s the beauty of a hot air balloon floating across the sky that triggers memories of getting up before the sun, drinking coffee and eating warm cinnamon rolls, while waiting quietly for the magic of dozens of colorful orbs in the sky.
The way my cheeks still color in shame when I think of the disappointment in his eye when we were at the best brunch buffet in the history of the world and I was full after one plate. I am, like my father before me, a very good eater, and I let him (and myself) down that day.
I don’t often write about my father, but he’s never far from my mind. I have been shaped by his influence in countless ways, and I’m afraid the enormity of who he was won’t translate to written word.
How he quietly helped those who needed it, but took great pleasure in laughing at people, both to their face and behind their back. The more he liked a person, the more shit he flipped them, and everyone on the receiving end knew this and loved it. People adored being teased by my dad, and after he died, those stories were told with pride from the recipients of his mockery.
One of my closest college friends was visiting once, and after many drinks she bartered with my brother to make her a sandwich in trade for a boob flash. He slapped that sandwich together, received his quick payment, and we all promised to never speak of it. Yeah, right. The next morning, my dad and I were drinking coffee before anyone else awake, and I told him all about it. He couldn’t wait to tease her when she got up, but he was also feeling cheated. He shook his head, saying, “I cooked for that bitch all weekend.” When she finally rolled out of bed, he asked her about her sandwich. She acted confident in her decision to flash, stating it was “the best sandwich ever.” It turned out to be meat and mayo between some bread. No lettuce, no tomato, no mustard, and NO CHEESE. “Pfft,” he said. “I would have put cheese on it.” Only my dad could make someone ashamed of not demanding cheese for her boob sandwich.
My dad’s sense of humor was as dry as a desert, and often his jokes built slowly, losing the slower witted along the way. He also liked a prank, and he teased my brother and I whenever he could.
When writing notes to the school after an absence, he would write things like, “Please excuse Amy. She had diarrhea.” Or, “Please excuse Amy. She can’t help it.” I quickly learned to forge his signature, so I could write my own notes if Mom wasn’t around to write me a normal, non-embarrassing excuse note.
In middle school, before I knew that true coolness came from embracing the embarrassing, my dad used to mortify me when dropping me off at school. After I would get out of the car and halfway to the school door, he’d roll down his window and holler, “Bye, honey! I love you! DADDY LOVES YOU!” He’d honk his horn a few times, and drive off, leaving me hiding my face with my hair and avoiding everyone’s eyes.
I can’t wait to show my kids how much I love them like that.
I miss my dad in countless large and small ways. I miss him when I eat a maple bar, and I miss him when I’m watching my brother’s kids and my kids playing together. Sometimes seeing a father with his little girl makes me choke back tears, and I know my dad would have been tickled that my kids’ love meerkats like he did.
This Father’s Day, I will think of him, but I won’t cry, and I will be happy. Happy that I had 31 years with a father who was present, trustworthy, witty, and fun. A father who loved my mother, and with her, showed my brother and me what marriage really looks like. I am confident that my father would be proud of my life. When I wonder if I’m making a good choice, I consider what my dad would think of it.
That compass helps keep me true.