I am four or five, riding the subway with my Dad, because he is still a couple of years away from owning his first used car—a 1953 or ’54 Chevy. I bounce on his shoulders, knees pressed against his ears. His hard-work hands circle my ankles as he paces along the platform. At that height, I am nearly eye level with the Chicklet vending machine. He digs two pennies from his pocket and I plunk them into the slot all by myself. The little yellow box with two Chicklets tumbles out and he lets me chew both.
Riding the merry-go-round at Hunting Park, I reach for the brass ring each time we go around. Daddy holds my waist so I stretch as far as I can, knowing he won’t let me fall. My arms are always too short.
I lay across his sturdy hands in the ocean, flapping my arms and kicking my legs, learning how to float. Later, he pushes the blue canvas stroller I am at least a year too old for, and trots from one end of the boardwalk to the other.
I climb to the very top of the monkey bars at the playground willing myself to strap my legs over the bar and hang upside down. Daddy watches from below. He never seems disappointed that not once am I brave enough to lock my knees, trust my legs, and let go.
At my Girl Scout meeting, the leader needs volunteer drivers for our next outing. Dad owns the Chevy by then and I know without having to ask him that he will say yes. I proudly raise my hand.
We are in the living room. It is sometime after the brain surgery that made it hard for him to talk. He scrunches his eyes, gestures with him arms. He struggles to squeeze out words that I do not understand. Finally, I figure out he wants to know how I’m getting to Girl Scout camp. I tell him my uncle, his brother, will drive me and a smile spreads across his face. He will never walk, or talk, or drive again, but inside, he is still my Dad.
The Father’s Day right after that would be our last. I was twelve when he died and Father’s Day has always been hard for me. Most years, I just try to ignore it.
There’s a line in my novel, CAPE MAYBE, where the narrator, Katie says, “I don’t remember my father, but I miss him as if I do.” Unlike Katie, I did get to know and remember my Dad. He was burly, consistent, and dependable, a mystifying balance of gregarious and reserved. Because he died when I was so young, all of my memories of him are tinged with childlike awe. I wish my adult self could have known him, even if that means I would have learned he had some flaws.
You hear people say, “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss him.” The truth is, I don’t think about or long for my dad every day. But even after 50 years, there are many days when the ache of missing him is so raw, it still feels new.
A friend who also misses having her dad in her life referred to him as the one who got away. That really struck a chord with me. Does it resonate with you too?