Sunday, August 26, 2018

2018.08.26 Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

You would be 107 today were you still alive. Happy Birthday wherever you are, Dad. I miss you. I’ve read that images of loved ones fade overtime, and that the face is the last to disappear from the mind's-eye memory. I still remember your face, Dad. I can see without a photo—lucky  because the scan of a very old photo didn't work. I also remember your personality and your influence on my life.

I wrote a lot about you in my memoir, especially the moments of spiritual understanding you gave me, times when you’d call me Lynda, the name you chose for me at birth. You chose the spelling, so you could call me Lyn, but then you and Mom called me Lynnie.

You called my Lynda when you were mad at me, like the night I tried, almost successfully, to sneak out to meet my teenage boyfriend, just to see if we could get away with it. We didn’t. You spotted my absence and hollered into the night from the front door of our suburban house: LYNDA!  It was louder than the blast of a train’s horn. I tore back home, feigning annoyance, but feeling secretly protected. Getting caught was less threatening than teenage sex in a car.

You called me Lynda when we had political fights, and then too when I told you I aspired to be ordained an Episcopal priest. I stammered to explain my sense of vocation. You stopped me and simply said: “I understand, Lynda.”  I was almost forty years old then, but I felt adult. I suppose a parent always feels like a parent even with a grown child and the reverse, but this time I felt truly dignified. Thanks, Dad.

Yes, I remember your  sarcasm. I’d been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. You said:  “There must be some mistake” then immediately said you were kidding, but it stung. I will say, however, that I didn’t give it much pain-time or credence, knowing that nasty humor was martini-generated. I also knew it was probably a critique you, the fifth child of a mother who abandoned her own aspirations to be an opera singer in order to have children, had heard about yourself. You and I, however were worthy of praise.

There was one time though when your silence, not your words, hurt me and shaped my self-image. I was five, a shy child, an introvert, like you. I wanted your praise and Mom was always in the way with excesses of adulation—compensatory for your silence, and mine I think. She complained to you about my refusal to greet the cheery doorman with cheer.“What’s wrong with that child?” she said.  You, Dad, said nothing.

You could be too quiet like me, but when you spoke you were honest. Do you remember the time you and Farmer Kurtie worked together with cattle prods to coax an angry bull onto a ramp and up into the truck that would take him home after the stud affair? You were a city guy. This was not your thing. I watched in horror, sure that ferocious bull would charge and kill you; instead he relented and ran onto the truck. I was so relieved and impressed. “Daddy,” I said, “”you were so brave! Were you scared?”  You said, “Scared as scared could be, Lynnie." I hugged you so hard, just for telling the truth.

So, Dad, on your natal anniversary, I will remember you in these ways:
    I will sit in your huge red leather chair and pound the arm with my fist, as you used to when you wanted to make some point. I love your chair, and I love that I have it.
    I will say your favorite phrase: “What’s the point?” during the day and in my prayers. It was the last thing you said to me when you were dying. I will resist trying to answer that question and assume you know the answer, and that you were wise to ask it over and over.
    I will re-read my memoir chapter:”The Old Sweater” about how I wore your old torn golf sweater around for a couple of years after you died. The sweater’s sleeves hung down to my thighs when I let them. You loved that old sweater, Dad, and I loved you.

Today I discovered the answer to “What’s the point?” Celebrating my 80th birthday with my four adult children with me in the middle (Robert William III, Jill Barlow, Beverley Ann, John Thomas) was a perfect day—good weather, good food, good conversation, good company, good laughter, good sharing, good love and Love. That’s the point, isn’t it, Dad?