The Heart of a Father

Surf Club, circa 1960

Surf Club, circa 1960

I love this picture of my dad and me. He in those ultra hip sunglasses. Me in my sassy red swimsuit. I see so much in this one photo: his youth, our smiles, the shadow of my pregnant mother who took the picture, the twinkle of my other siblings not yet born, the beginning of our life as a family.

But as time goes on, this old snapshot has faded. The colors aren’t as bright. The lines are starting to blur. I should get it restored, but I can’t bear to part with it, so it sits atop a cabinet in our family room. My sweet daddy is always there with his arms around me, always looking down on me, always there for me.

A few months after my dad died, my husband and I went shopping at a mall up north. As we wandered in and out of stores, many of the clerks asked if we were shopping for Father’s Day. My heart broke a little with every inquiry. “No, because my father isn’t with us anymore,” I screamed to myself. I realized these employees were just doing their jobs, but it cracked my veneer, and the tears flowed. I think it was the first time since his death I really accepted he was gone.

Seven plus years have passed since that first Father’s Day without my dad. Seven years of family dinners without him at the head of the table. Seven years of graduations and Christmases and weddings without his toasts. Seven years without his stories and jokes. Seven years of life spent without seeing his sweet face over a cup of coffee at Panera.

There are unexpected times when I will catch myself missing him. I see a well-dressed older man cross the street and for a moment I think, “Well, there’s dad.” I glance at a hose ready to water a manicured lawn and gulp down sobs. I think of all the moments he has missed and my eyes mist.

My dad, like the photo, is still here, though. He is in my sons' eyes, my brothers’ hands, and my sister’s laugh. He is in my nieces’ grace and my nephews’ goodness. He’s in every one of the stories my mother tells about him. My father strengthens us through our family ties and our communal bonds. He is our glue.

Both of my boys have tattoos honoring my dad. I often think of those tattoos when I’m feeling lost or sad, and I know he is there watching over them, keeping them safe, and hopefully whispering advice on how to be authentic and honorable men.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You are with me every day in the words I write, the pies I bake, and the love that surrounds me.

“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” - Abbe Prevost