Searching for inspiration to write, is something I do daily. But as most writers know, inspiration rarely shows up when we search for it, and usually comes to us in snippets or seepages or sometimes like a “bat out of the blue” from a place we least expect. I would never have imagined Father’s Day would be the thing to send me racing to the keyboard, but it has.
When our loved ones are gone, the word memories describes what we’re left with. The stuff the memories are made of, the experiences, the details, the stories, the incidents, the laughter, joy, tears—is what we keep forever. But we each have a unique essence that’s ours alone, and that’s the the thing we miss most when someone we love dies. I believe it’s the absence of that person’s essence, the thing they take with them that can never be replaced, that creates the most profound grief.
Many people grow up intimidated by their fathers. I did, too. But not in the technical sense of the word, typically defined by aggression or authority. I was intimidated by his unlimited kindness towards other people. He was the guy in the neighborhood always ready to help the family down the block if they had an emergency. He was the guy at church who worked tirelessly on the committee to serve the needy. He was the guy who took an extra moment to let the kid way in the back flipping burgers know they were appreciated. (I just this moment recalled that for awhile he was a volunteer fireman, which terrified me and my mother, but makes perfect sense to me now.)
I was intimidated by the perfect way he folded laundry. To this day, the shirts in my drawer lack symmetry at the shoulder line where the sleeves are tucked underneath. In my attempt to pass this skill down to my kids, thank goodness they have their Grandpa Ted to thank for knowing how shirts are at least supposed to look when they’re properly folded.
I was intimidated by his inability to speak ill of others. Watching my father struggle to describe someone’s bad behavior in a nice way always made me giggle. I can only recall a couple occasions where he actually felt compelled to speak the ugly truth about someone, and even then, it was with a sense of humor.
I was intimidated by his devotion to my mother. He set an example of spousal adoration that most people could never emulate—not the showering in diamonds and luxurious gifts or lavish vacations kind of adoration—but the kind born of genuine love and respect you vow in front of a group of people to always have for that individual. And when a devastating stroke caused my mother to spend the last four years of her life bedridden in a nursing home, there were only two things that forced my dad to ever leave her side: his job and his death.
I was intimidated by his perfect handwriting, his love of order, his respect for routine (due partly, perhaps, to his career in the military). I was intimidated mostly because he approached these things with a gentleness that astounded me. He was, for the most part, a quiet and shy person who raised a child who never stopped talking and loved being the center of attention, and who, as children do, took for granted all the ways he showed his unconditional love for me.
Wherever his spirit is, I have no doubt he knows how much I miss him. My deepest hope, is that he knows how much I loved him.