My dad would have been 90 today, had he lived.
The trouble is, I have few memories of my dad who died 61 years ago.
The photo above is as surprising to me as it is to you. How warm was the day? Who took the picture? And wherever were they standing, since it looks like we’re out at the end of a pier? We look happy though; I like that we were both smiling.
I had only two years with my dad. And then I had sporadic visits, I’m told, over the next three years. The photo above was during one of those visits. Then he moved to Canada where he died two years later when the small plane he was navigating crashed into the side of a mountain.
From those five years, I have four distinct memories of my father, all of which will be in this next memoir. In one he’s sleeping; in one he’s talking to my mother; in one he’s talking to my grandmother; and in one, only one, is he talking to me. That’s it.
I also have the memory of learning of his death when I was seven, another of what I was doing the day he died, and a few memories of his funeral. Snippets of scenes, really.
But I have no sense of him as a person, a personality. Was he a force to contend with as I’d like to believe? Or was he a bit of a milquetoast? Perhaps some of each? Was he smart? Was he kind? How would I have experienced his spiritual side? How would I have known when he was afraid? What did his voice sound like?
Everything I know of him is second hand: hand-me-down memories, second-hand stories, other people’s tales. Only those four memories; only that one conversation. A half-dozen photographs and a few postcards he wrote me (aged two) when he traveled.
In some ways, it was easier having so few memories, for he became a blank slate onto which I could draw my ideal father. Of course he’d be smart; and kind; and generous; and funny. Had he lived, he’d have made me laugh, often. Every visit, I was convinced, he’d have left me laughing. And there’d be many visits. He’d also have been free with advice to me as I maneuvered my way though life; advice that I’d eagerly — gratefully — absorb. And he’d be a great dancer.
And then I remember . . .
Sometimes, there are things in life that we will never know.
It took me over forty years to learn that not everything gets to have an explanation. To sit with not knowing has become less of a challenge over the years, but that’s all — just less of the challenge it’s always been.
Still, I wish my dad could have known just how much I’d miss him. And that his leaving changed my life in ways no one will never ever really know.
So, today I’ll just say what I’ve never said before. Happy Birthday, Dad. I still miss you.
How about you? What is your “I just don’t know” challenge?
For a quick refresher on my take on “Sitting in Ambiguity,” I give you this link.