It’s almost Father’s Day again. I haven’t consciously remembered or celebrated Father’s Day since you’ve been gone. Growing up, Mom made sure she signed cards “from me” for my uncles. As an adult, I sometimes even remember to say Happy Father’s Day to James. Once in a while, I’m really together, and I send a group text to all the fathers in my life. One year, I even got James a gift card.
Move over, Martha Stewart.
But more often than not, I do my best to completely forget about it. Why would I celebrate it? You’re not here.
I have a weird relationship with the reality of your death. On the one hand, it was 30 years ago. As a Strong Black Woman who knows that sometimes (most times) life is just not fair, I recognize that it was a long time ago, and I should be perfectly okay. My Dad died. It is what it is.
But on the other hand… On the other hand, I’m finally recognizing that this was a defining moment that has impacted the very core of who I am.
I’m sure you know that I refused to go to the funeral. I never, ever feel guilty about it, and in thinking it over, I know that you understand.
What I do feel guilty about, time and again, is everything else. Isn’t that silly? Why would I feel guilty? That would probably piss you off. But I do.
I feel guilty that I only just went to visit you for the first time last month. I’m sorry it took me so long. I hope you know I’ve thought about it over and over again throughout the years. I’ve thought, and I’ve planned, and I’ve thought, and I’ve discussed with friends, and I’ve thought, and I’ve backed out, and I’ve thought again. My friend even did the research to find where you are buried. I never felt I could ask Mom or James. I never wanted to talk about the fact that you’re missing from my life, every single day. I’ve always been scared to even bring it up. But that girl, she’s a whiz at research. You’d like her. She takes no bullshit, and from what I remember, neither did you.
I hope you’d like me.
I’m sorry I’ve never wanted to talk about you. I feel guilty about that too. It’s still just too painful to say more than the basic “He died in a train crash when I was 8.” People usually offer their condolences, and that’s that. Which is fine, because I don’t think anyone really wants to hear about how I consciously avoid thinking about you during the good times and consciously avoid thinking about you during the bad times. How I broke down one Father’s Day and never marked it on my calendar again. How one night, I just broke in my apartment for no other reason than it was a day of the week. How people lose their parents and ask me how to cope, like I’m some paragon of strength and fortitude, and I have to fight the urge to scream I have no fucking idea, and I don’t want to say you’ll never get over it, but dammit, you will never get over it.
I’ve learned to be honest without being harsh. It’s really the best I could do.
I’m sorry I haven’t been stronger.
I’m sorry I’ve tried to be stronger than maybe I needed to be.
I’m sorry I don’t remember that much about our time together. But I do remember makes me smile.
I remember coming upon you doing a handstand in the living room (God knows why) and me running, screaming, because Daddy was upside down. Mom loved that one.
I remember when I knocked my tooth out. Remember that? You told me “I thought I taught you to block your face when you fall.” I remember you rocking me on the couch that night when I didn’t want to go to back to get stitches because my mouth wouldn’t stop bleeding on its own. I remember you telling me to be brave, and that sometimes you have to do what you’re scared to do in order to be better. I still tell myself that.
I remember when we moved from our apartment to our house, wanting so much to ride in the moving truck with you. (This was clearly before folks cared about little things like car seats). I remember turning around to wave to Mom through the back window- only to see nothing but black. I freaked out so badly, you had to pull the moving truck over and put me in the car with her.
I remember when you gave up smoking because you figured out I was allergic to the smoke.
I remember sitting on that same couch and reading the paper with you. You’d have me read parts of articles aloud to you and then you’d read some to me.
That right there? That explains so much about me.
I remember riding on the train with you, while you were working your shift as a conductor for Amtrak. I don’t know where we were going, but I remember the sheer joy at being able to call out the stops- and the shyness that took over when it was my turn, so that the stops came out as a croaked whisper. You just encouraged me to try again.
I remember the day you died. No, not the day of the week, or even the date. But I remember.
It was towards the end of the school year. That morning, Mom drove me to school. It was an odd enough occurrence that I asked her why. She just responded that she didn’t feel well, and that she had a stomach ache, so she didn’t go to work. I asked as few more questions, like if she was really badly sick, and if she was going to take a nap when she got back home.
I have no idea what she did while I was at school, having the carefree day that only a child on the cusp of freedom can experience. I do know that when I got home, Mom’s younger sister, my favorite Aunt was there.
That’s when I started to suspect that something was wrong. It’s not that she didn’t ever visit. It’s that she never visited. And then Mom sat me down and said “there’s been an accident, and Daddy won’t be here with us anymore.”
That was 30 years ago, and it can still drop me to my knees like it was this morning.
I went to see you for the first time last month. I’m sorry that the person who has always been described to me as the glue that held the family together has been largely ignored in death. It’s not that we don’t love you. Please don’t think that. It’s that we love you too much. It’s that you were too vital. It’s that we still, after all this time, cannot handle the reality of your absence. Aunt Florence still tears up when she says your name. Mom simply doesn’t say a word. James and Terrance do pretty well in conversation, but I never bring you up. I never ask questions. I can’t.
I’m so sorry.
It’s a void that I have never been able to deal with.
I know I screw up a lot. I’m hell on others and even worse on myself. I figure you must spend a lot of your time looking down and shaking your head. I do try, and I think, I hope that you know that.
I hope it’s enough.
Aunt Flo once said that the three of us each have a piece of you. She said I have your heart. That made me feel good, like you were still with me somehow.
God, I miss you Daddy. I hope I make you proud. I will do a better job of celebrating Father’s Day, and the fathers in my life, and in doing so, honor your memory. I’ll do a better job of keeping your memory alive.
And I’ll be by on Father’s Day.