When I lost my father, there was a long period of emptiness in my life. You were there, as were my mother and my brother, but I felt the absence, the vacancy, the role with no actor. And not long after, your father passed away. I imagine it was harder on you, since you were in that time period after me and before your husband. And we mourned, as we should, the passing of great men. It’s rarely a tragedy when an older fellow dies, but to die at 50 and 63 respectively ... that is far too soon.
“You never get over it, but you get used to it,” a man told me, and he was right. Losing a parent teaches us the impermanence of the world, reminds us that everyone is mortal. Death teaches us that no matter how much you we onto the fond memories of being a little boy with his father, or a little girl with her dad, those days are finite.
And one day, they end. For good.
And time passes, and we think about the tragedy less and less. Eventually, the wound heals, and it becomes comfortable to talk about the missing man, to tell stories with affection and laugh at old memories. Remember that time . . . ? Remember that time your dad tried — accidentally — to tip an Outback waitress $300? Remember that Christmas when my dad learned the hard way that the hockey net wouldn’t fit up the stairwell? Remember when we bought a TV and couldn’t fit it in my car, and your dad dropped everything to bring us his truck and help? Remember when the Post Office screwed up the paychecks, leaving me with nothing, and my dad didn’t even think twice about dropping a thousand dollars in my checking account so we could meet our bills?
Remember when you were a little girl, and daddy cherished your squeaky laughter at his silly faces? Remember when I was a little boy, and daddy beamed proudly as I rode a bike perfectly the first time I got on one? Remember those days?
They’re gone now. The memories are all that remain.
Quietly the sounds of our fathers’ voices faded into obscurity — I feel blessed that we live in an era of recorded media, so we can watch video and see lost loved ones move into a familiar room once more, and hear the warm sound of their voices. There are still moments when I pine, when I wish my dad was here to lend me a hand or offer some advice. Or just to talk to about current events, modern technology, or the Phillies. Or to hear their opinions on living to see a black president.
We each knew the other’s father quite well and felt a kinship to them. My dad truly liked you, loved you in a way one loves family, and enjoyed talking Photoshop with you. Your dad must have swooned over the prospect of talking Eagles with a fan like me. (The previous dude was Steeler fan — that must've been awkward!)
I know he liked me. I liked him back and always looked forward to his company. I never dreaded going over to your parents’ house or felt uncomfortable talking to him. I know my dad liked you. I’m sure you liked him back. But they’re gone now.
Both of us had an inferiority complex as children, and suffered depression as young adults. Perhaps different fathers would have parented us differently, and we’d’ve grown up well-adjusted and perfectly balanced. But then we wouldn’t be the people we are now, wouldn’t have had the same love for our fathers that we do, even years after their passing. I wouldn’t trade my dad for any man on earth, and you wouldn’t trade yours for all the gold in Fort Knox (which your dad once saw). They were the primary men in our lives, and because of them, we’ve reached the places we are now: relatively serene and certainly happy.
And now you have carried on the human tradition of creating your own family. Now your son has a father, just as you did. And your son will laugh at his dad’s silly faces, and the first time your son rides a bike all on his own, he'll turn around and see a big beam on his dad's face. And the years will pass, and the connection will grow, father and son.
Some day — we can only hope many decades from now — your son will come to outlive his father (and not the other way around). And in the moments of grief, he will do what we did: he will latch onto fond memories and feel good that he knew and loved his dad, and that his dad knew and loved him. Then your dad will turn to a friend, just as we did, and say, “My father was the greatest man I’ve ever known.”
And he’ll be right.