Two weeks from tonight will be the 27th anniversary of my mother’s death. I remember many things from that time, but one of the most vivid memories was the look in my father’s eyes as I drove us to New York for her burial and glanced back at him in the rearview mirror. I knew that half of him had died with her.
He has been in a nursing home since November, growing frailer and more distant. He hasn’t seemed any longer like the father I knew.
I like to remember him as the man who taught me to throw a ball, giving me a black eye when I insisted he throw the baseball fast so I could learn to catch a hard throw without flinching. He was the man who taught me how to hammer a nail and use a crosscut saw, so that, many years later, when I showed him a table I had made, he said, “You’ve outdone me,” but there was a note of pride in his voice as he said it. He taught me how to change oil and sparkplugs so I could do some of the maintenance on my own car. I like to remember his horrible 70s perm, and his bad jokes. One of my fondest memories of my childhood was standing on a chair next to him in the kitchen as he made doughnuts and I got to dip them in cinnamon sugar. I wasn’t allowed to eat the doughnuts, but I got to eat all the doughnut holes I could stuff in my mouth. And I remember being blessed with holy water every night of my life that I spent under his roof.
My father and I had grown apart over the past 25 years, after he remarried a woman who was a bitter, negative kind of person, the kind who tried to drive a wedge between him and his family – probably out of her own insecurity over the kind of family we had been. One of those wedges was over my being a lesbian, but a couple of years ago, after he’d had a serious stroke and the wife had left him during his rehab, my aunt sat him down and helped him realize he hadn’t lost a gay daughter, he’d gained a daughter-in-law.
Two weeks from tonight will be the 27th anniversary of my mother’s death, and tonight, the other half of my father went to meet her. I know he died a frail, ill old man, but I’ll remember the other things.