Tuesday, March 31, 2009

For Dad

Out of all the notebooks I've amassed over 20-odd years of writing practice, only two qualified--I'm not sure how, exactly--for the transatlantic journey. With my time abroad drawing to an end, this column calling for new text, and the notebooks having sat essentially untouched over all these months, today I thought it high time to look into them. It was back in August, I think, that I had put a page marker in one of the two notebooks, a note: "Return to these around 10/08." Well, this isn't 10/08. It's almost April, '09, yet apparently today is the day.

At times like these I am reminded of the rhythm of things. I realize it wasn't procrastination at all at work but the grace of perfect timing that caused my delay. It is two years ago tomorrow that my father concluded his earthly passage, and so he is on my mind. Today I am disposed in mind and heart to complete the lines about a visit with him that I had drafted in the year before his death, before we knew of his cancer. It pleases me now to
resuscitate them--and him, for a time, by way of them.

My father is a tamer bear at 79 going on 80: long retired and slowing down more each year. Yet, no doubt in part due to some regret at having missed so many of those years--blowing like a hurricane, or sleeping, through them--my father came with us for lunch at the Blues Diner last Friday.

It is deep winter: February. The sun is strong, but the day still cold. My mother tells me, "But he can't refuse his daughter." She has been trying to induce activity in him, to get him up and out of his easy chair to tear him away from his crosswords, with little success. And indeed: he doesn't refuse his daughter, though I have not asked directly for him. We lunch--he on fried scallops, me on a fat reuben, and my mother on a full-course turkey dinner.

By the time we leave the restaurant, we are well sated, and lulled too by the good and steady heat in the Diner. It feels colder outside than before. Maybe that's why we indulged my mother when she beckoned us into her bank to add Dad as a signatory on one of her accounts. Only now does this strike me as symbolic. At 79, Dad is fully forgiven, it seems
by himself? by us? and so can be fully accepted now into the fold. I sign the card approving his joint ownership of this account I had no prior knowledge of, though I've shared it in name with my mother for some time.

We finish our bank business and return to the sidewalk, to make our way in the sun and harsh wind back to the car. At the corner, I turn and there, along with the red spots on my father's face where he'd picked a scab or two, is a smudge of ketchup. It couldn't have been longer than 30 seconds before my mind landed in a peaceful place of, in a word, "fine": I was fine, and he was fine. My father, full of scallops and ketchup and fries, was walking in his puffy green parka and "good" gray khakis back to our car. He'd lunched with us. Banked with us. And he was now walking on a cold, bright Melrose sidewalk, beside me--or almost so--with ketchup on his chin. Of course the bank clerk must have seen it. But no matter. The smudge was no reflection on him, no reflection on me. My father had lunched with us. He is alive, he walked with us, he still breathes, his breath sweeter these days, and that is that. I was not embarrassed for him or for myself. There was nothing that needed to be said or done. I turned from him and kept walking. He kept walking. I felt something like a smile inside.

moon is two days beyond full and flat on one edge. None of us thinks there's a problem with that; it's just the way it is. The moon is dark on one edge, but otherwise full. The ketchup was like that. He would likely never know. He'd scratch his face or sneeze heartily later and wipe it away, no better or worse for it.

I see this as wealth, as a wealthy moment. Wealthy in the same way that those moments--days, weeks, years--of my youth spent hating or embarrassed by my father were, I see now, impoverished moments. I am rich in this "fine" place, where ketchup is ketchup and a chin is a chin, and when the two meet, it does not call for correction. It was just as if I had looked over and noticed my father's gloves were brown, and then registering this-- informed but unchanged by this--I kept walking.

My friend was appalled when I shared the moment with her later.

"You didn't tell him!?"

She'd have told him, so he could wipe it off, she said.

I felt at a loss to explain to her how there was simply nothing wrong, nothing to fix or change.

I still feel at a loss to explain it more than three years hence. I was neither embarrassed
for better or worse, this is my father nor prideful hear ye: this is my father who can wear ketchup without shame. Not the smudge itself, but the hurriedly cleaning his face or asking him to do so: that would have been the insult, in fact.

All I know is that my father did not refuse his daughter. He came out to lunch for once in a very blue moon. He ate his lunch, then walked to the car with ketchup on his chin, and it didn't matter. What really mattered mattered. And it still sparkles, priceless gem that it was, that it is.


Blogger James Honore Poulin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Jamme said...

I understand and am grateful for this writing.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Kathryn Deputat said...

Oh, thanks so much, Jamme (your comment came up twice, so i deleted one). I'm happy for your companionship on Love's Freeway!

5:31 AM  

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