This August, I’m going to visit my father in New York. It would be the first time in almost three years. Post birthdays, graduations, weddings, all things he was unable to attend; because he’s dead.
Growing up my fathers absence was a phantom in the background, just beyond my peripheral vision. He was a myth my mother told me. I filled in all the colorful anecdotes; little puzzle pieces of his life revealed to me at 12, 15, then 18, at 22. Somewhere around 26 I received my father’s funeral program- creased and a bit worn, it fit neatly in a 5 by 7 envelope. Properly structured to connote the sophistication of the man he was, the program was formal, a tasteful picture of him on the cover. I held the browning paper close to my face and hummed…
As I’ve gotten older the question about my ‘parents’ vary. “Where are you from?” is sometimes, but not often followed up with a “where do your parents live?” People ask, “What do your parents do?” These genuine questions which seek to engender a connection to another aren’t meant to alienate. When I only answer about my mother most people wouldn’t ask follow up questions. They assume I existed as another black girl in America, Moynihan report style, single parent household- father, missing in action, absent, gone…never dead. There’s no nice way to tell a stranger that they’re walking onto quicksand.
Some, the unlucky ones, follow up, “What about your dad?” And just like that, we both have to suffer the awkward reveal “My dad passed away”. Oh, the shifty eyes, the inevitable “I’m sorry”, the awkward shuffle to another topic. “I’m sorry” is kind, it connotes comprehension that something is amiss in your life. Although unintentional, the limp “sorry” that follows leaves you feeling like a wounded person, someone whose past is marred in tragedy. Yet, what can your sorrow do to fill the pit that swells and subsides inside of me? It. just. is.
And as we approach Father’s Day, I catch myself in disquieted moments. Not fully knowing how to deal with the barrage of advertisements which offer ways to show your “Dad” that you value them. Everywhere from the bus stop to the post office, the signs of Fathers Day crop up. Cards for Dads who love grills, and football, and meat, and man caves. Cards- dead tree flesh to bestow upon the living.
While waiting in line at the post office, I watched a young girl saunter over the array of card choices. In consultation with her mother they wondered aloud- would dad like the chubby cheeked cherub one or the Darth Vader one?
A smile creeping across my face as I wonder if Stephen would have liked the cherub one or the Vader one? I decided Vader.
My sister asked me once “What do you want to leave your children?” I told her in the moment I didn’t know. The truth in that moment was beyond articulation. How do you tell someone that you hope to not leave, and in the event of your inevitable descent into worm food you want to leave them everything you’ll ever have, and all that you hope to be. How do you say that you wish to impart knowledge of yourself; beyond legacy or land, a true understanding of the messy weirdo nerdy serious fun person you are.
Last week my mother told me that she would sign over the land my father gave me into my possession. One lot of land to call my own- a plot to fill, on swampy ground across an ocean. (You could build an entire bridge with these metaphors, gosh!)
This land is one of the most tangible things my father bestowed upon me, beyond my body and simmering temper, beyond the blood that pumps to and from my heart, something to build a life upon. Something to leave behind.