My dad’s birthday was this week, July 24th. I have been thinking of him so often lately, wanting to get my thoughts and memories down on paper, to share them, leave a record, something.
First, I’ve been thinking of the connections we make as we go through life. Some good, some bad, some unmemorable as time passes. As we get older, we have an opportunity, hopefully, to learn and grow and reconcile some things. Each decade brings a different awareness and a different way of thinking about things and a different importance to what we care about.
My dad only made it to 40. Me at 40 was a scary thing to behold. Still trying to figure things out, still so unsure of myself, still using all my defense mechanisms to hide from authenticity. What would people have said about me at age 40 if anything at all?
So many of the stories I have heard about my dad have been negative colored by dumb things he did or hurt feelings or resentments. Many of the bad or broken connections he made going through life were unreconciled. I don’t know but I think he was still trying to figure things out and figure out who he was. I think he was still running and using all his defense mechanisms to hide from his own authenticity. Unfortunately, he never made it to the decades where you start really thinking about what matters to you and who you really want to be. I’m sure there are some people out there who figure these things out earlier, those healthy people you imagine are out there somewhere, but he wasn’t one of them and neither am I.
Most of my memories are a jumble of images like a movie montage of memories, little snapshot moments. Some of my memories, I think, are not really memories but have become so from the images in the few photographs I have. Some are things I clung to as a child when my parents split up so I could be like him like cream of chicken soup and Thousand Island dressing and green onions, radishes, and raw potato with salt.
I do have some real memories. Dinner at a steak place and a movie on my birthday. At the restaurant, we’d wait in the bar area and my dad would order a White Russian or a Seven and Seven or if he was splurging, a VO and Seven. We saw Smokey and the Bandit at the theater back when Burt Reynolds was cool. We saw Top Gun and I remember being embarrassed and uncomfortable sitting next to my dad during the love scene just waiting for it to be over.
So many things make me think of him. Burgers and battered onion rings and homemade vanilla milkshakes, hamburger patties served with eggs, corned beef hash made outdoors while we were camping or out on the boat. Level 42 and the song You’ve Got Another Thing Coming by Judas Priest, which he blasted on a drive during a winter day. Short boots that zip at the ankle and Chaps cologne. It’s so weird the things that you remember.
My dad loved to laugh. I remember him watching an episode of the TV show Fridays with Michael Richards and laughing so hard he fell out of his chair holding his stomach, tears streaming down his cheeks. My dad was the kind of guy who when he smiled and laughed, you could see it in his eyes.
He loved being outdoors. We camped and had great meals and campfires and smores. He loved boats and from my early teens, always had one. The first one was rough and he worked hard to waterproof and reupholster and paint and fix, then trading up each year or two or three for a better boat. He loved spending time on the boat, the feeling of the wind in his hair and sun on his face.
He loved going for drives and always loved a sports car. He loved going to the cider mill on a crisp fall day for warm donuts and cold cider.
I also wish I had gotten to know him as a person. I knew him as a child. I knew what he let me know. I knew brief glimpses and shallower conversations. I would have loved to talk with him about so many things, to have been a be part of things, to get to know him as an adult, to have the conversations that matter, to have him know my children and be a part of their lives.
When his birthday came around this year, I just wanted him to be remembered.