Happy Father’s Day, Coot!
I must have been three or four years old…I’m taking a nap with my dad, resting in the crook of his arm. It’s a warm afternoon. I can smell the comforting aroma of old-spice, brill cream, and cigarettes…I’m dozing off to sleep.
It’s a sensory memory, triggered whenever I smell the combination of two or more of the above. Feeling safe…like my dad is the biggest guy in the world, and he’s watching out for me while I sleep.
It seems like too young to remember, but I do. I’m sure it happened before my parents divorced (when I was six) as I doubt we took any naps together after he moved out.
That means he was five years younger than I am now.
My next memory, probably a year later, is my mother crying, and me running out to the parking lot and screaming, “I hate you!” at my father’s retreating car. I didn’t hate him, I didn’t even know what was going on, I just wanted to help my mom.
How that must have hurt him.
It was never mentioned, so I guess I can live with the idealistic hope that he didn’t hear.
It’s amazing how memories can fade, but guilt lingers. Now that I’m a father, the idea of hearing those words from my own daughter makes me cringe, and I wonder what my girl will remember, thirty-eight years from now.
Those, of course, aren’t the only memories. I have a nearly endless parade of beach trips and camp-outs, movies and hamburger lunches. Though my father didn’t live with us, I know that I was blessed to spend more time with him, more quality time, than most of my friends who still had dads at home. He never missed a visit (twice a week) or a birthday, Christmas, school or scouting event, he was never too busy with work, or anything else, to be there for me.
The years passed. I grew up, got a job, got married, and Dad’s health grew worse.
He lived with us for awhile, until his nursing demands were two much and he chose to move to an assisted living facility. Then the years seemed to reverse, and it was me and my family visiting him every week, taking him for trips to favorite restaurants, shopping at the mall, and bringing him to our house for birthdays and holidays.
At sixty-eight, Dad was ecstatic to finally become a grandfather, and never hesitated to share new pictures and stories about his “baby Grace” with all of his friends and neighbors, often several times. He still loved to laugh, and she found it infectious, soon she was bursting in to a smile as soon as she saw grandpa wheeling out to meet us.
Gracie’s Grandpa Frank passed away in September 2008, when she was just thirteen months old.
This is our first father’s day without him.
We’ll miss him, of course, and while we grieve for the years that Grace will not know her grandfather, we’re comforted by the pride, joy and love he had for his granddaughter this past year. Grace will grow up knowing her Grandpa Frank through the love and stories that we will share with her.
If he were here now, I would thank him again for all the memories, and for all the lessons he taught me. I’d tell him that I hope I can be the father to my daughter that he was to me.
Dad, thank you…I love you…I hear you in my baby’s laughter.