Absence

1304701148-half-mast-flagSometimes it’s difficult to believe my father’s been gone 17 years, and then I remember that the terrible hammer blow of his death is no longer the ache that it was, and hasn’t been for a long time. That’s fortunate, because I couldn’t have endured for long with that much daily pain. It faded, as it must, and now sometimes days and even weeks might pass without me thinking about him.

He was a good man. He wasn’t without his flaws, but few of us are. At one point, after I realized he wasn’t perfect, I felt a weird sense of betrayal and tended to downgrade him a little, for which I still feel ashamed. Then, much later than I should have, I realized his part in the world was much more than just “dad” to me and my sisters. And as I’ve aged and had teenagers of my own I’ve come to understand him a little better. Many’s been the time that I’ve wish I could have asked him for advice, although I’ve become so used to not having it now that I don’t think about it much any more.

busy-running-scheduleToday, though, I’m many hours from home, traveling with my wife. I left her at her meeting and drove to a McDonald’s to sit and work prior to the library opening. As I walked for the entryway I recalled sometimes meeting my dad in the early mornings at a McDonald’s for coffee. I don’t think he ever enjoyed McDonald’s coffee itself much, just my company (which I was too young to appreciate) but he was an early riser, just as I’ve now become, and since he was up and I was passing through he wanted to see me. My God, do I grieve for not getting that until my own kids are almost completely out of the house. I’d give a lot to meet him for one of those coffees now, just as I’d give a lot to swing by the old campus cafeteria where he’d often be waiting for me in the mornings when my mom dropped me off before school. My grade school/junior high was only a block from the university where they both taught, and Dad would arrange to be there in the mornings to hang out with me until school started.

I took it for granted then, but I look back now and smile thinking about the games of Hangman and Battleship we’d play on napkins before the start of school.

When I was young I naively assumed that the people I loved would always be there, and that the future was long and I had endless amounts of time. How things change. Sometimes I tried to imagine various changes, in a maudlin way, but I just didn’t understand.

As I entered that McDonald’s today there was a man in late middle-age waiting to order. He had a similar hairline and nearly identically colored white hair to that of my father in his last years. Moreover, he was wearing khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt with slim horizontal stripes. It looked so much like something that my father would wear that as I turned to place my own order, from the corner of my eye he looked like my dad.

I have to confess that I stood there longer than I needed to, looking from the corner of my eye, just imagining that my father really was nearby. I did the same thing after he took his seat with his wife, turning my head just slightly to briefly revisit the illusion.

I still miss him a helluva lot. I wrote earlier about that high bar he set.

10 Comments on “Absence

  1. Sweet piece, Howard. The loss of parents and friends as I’ve aged is the hardest and least prepared for thing I’ve experienced. I’ve “seen” my mother several time similar to how you “saw” your dad and it’s strange and discomfiting, but I find myself lingering too.

    • It’s strange, isn’t it? A sad little game. Makes me think how much I took for granted that they’d always be there, nearby.

  2. My dad and I used to meet for donuts and coffee/hot chocolate in the grown-up Grill, most mornings of junior high 🙂 No battleship or hangman, though. I took those opportunities to learn to flirt with the cute, college women who always seemed to be at my dad’s table 🙂 So, I guess we were both learning games of strategy, you and I. I miss that place and time, too. Not just the time with my dad, but everything that surrounded that period, from you and Jon, to the Grill, to Lab School. Thanks for bringing some of that back. I miss your dad, too.

    • Hey old friend. It’s strange thinking that the grill is just… gone. I didn’t realize how fortunate we were in that school, and our parents, and our friends, and growing up with the entire university as a our playground.

      Hope I can see you and your dad next time I swing through the area.

  3. My dad has been gone for nearly 18 years, and I miss him every day. I’m 52 years old, but I wish he was here for me to ask his advice on certain projects from time to time. We used to meet for early morning coffee at a local truck stop every morning, once I was grown up, starting a family and finally realizing my dad knew more about life than I did, back then. Next month I will be buying my family home from my mother and moving in with my wife and son,and I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I held his hand as he passed from this world in that very same house, and it was a powerful experience. I think he would be content to see that place remain in the hands of family, for another generation at least.

    • Do you find yourself thinking less and less of how you’d catch him up on current events as the years pass? Used to it was easy. Now, so much time has passed, it’s harder to imagine conversations with him.

      Those meetings for coffee or lunch or whatever were more wonderful than I knew. Soon I suppose I’ll be experiencing them from the other side.

      • I will always cherish those memories of early morning coffee with my dad. I wish I had realized then how incredibly important these moments were with him. I occasionally have dreams about him, where we sit a talk about regular, every day things. I call them “visits “. They seem to occur less and less as time goes by, but I think that’s because I’m doing ok, and he is not worried about us. My dad was a blue collar trucker with minimal schooling, but wise beyond my childish comprehension. His hands were strong and tough, but he loved the beautiful, delicate things of the natural world. Like a butterfly or a sparrow. If I pass from this world as half the man my father was, I will be content with the knowledge that I lived my life well.

        • He sounds like a good man.

          I wish I met my father more regularly in dreams. Every now and then I bump into him, but apart from the first one, they all felt more dreamlike. The first one, a couple of years after his death, I dreamt I was wandering around the grounds of the building where he used to work and there he was, setting up a grill. I asked him what the afterlife was like and he said it was nice, although, he added with a wry grin, he had to listen to Jesus a lot. There was a radio near him and I inferred that he meant over the radio. After that we just chatted a little, and it felt very much like one of our real conversations.

          Oddly enough, when I mentioned this dream to my mom, I found out he’d purchased a grill shortly before his death but had never gotten to fire it up. It’s possible I’d known that and my subconscious just filed it away, but I still thought it was a weird coincidence.

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