It’s been five years now since my birth father died. There are many times when he seems so, not gone. Times when I think about calling him — after I’ve run across his phone number or email address, still saved in my contacts. I can see and hear him as clear as if I’d just recently visited his home.
Memories and wishes come fast and furious near the holidays, when I long for my family to gather together, for people gone to be there, just one more time. I’d ask for more, but just one more time would do.
My sister and I recently reminisced about sleeping in our dad’s motor home, parked on his property for visitors to stay in. We were so cold out there. The worst was when we needed to use the bathroom and discovered we were locked out of the the house. We did have some good, silly talks out there.
I’m not writing this to paint the picture of a saint or even of a good father. He left a mess of pain after he died and spread a great deal of hurt around before that too. But I can’t help but remember and miss the man captured in my photos…
the colorful shirts and kerchiefs,
his love for watching CNN and arguing politics,
the beat up cowboy hats and suspenders,
the non-stop worker, who if you wanted to talk to him, you better work too,
the attachment to his animals,
his slow way of thinking and talking (I can relate to that),
his tall cowboy boots and well-used half chaps,
his smile, his laugh, and his hugs,
I didn’t know my dad all that well. I didn’t meet him until I was 40 and because I lived so far away, I’d be surprised if all my flights to Arizona amounted to more than a couple months worth of days spent with my dad before he died of cancer.
What we shared was a gift for writing bad (but cherished) poetry and a love of horses and dogs. He only saw me ride once – one of his horses in his round pen. Sometimes when I ride my horse now, I imagine him watching and nodding in approval, seeing a bit of himself in me and being pleased by it. A fantasy, I suppose. A wish.
Why do I wish such things? Do I wish he might have regretted giving such a prodigy away? Do I long for approval from my father, like most children do? Do I long to be ‘known’ by him and believe some part of how I ride would be the best way to accomplish that knowledge?
For some reason, I feel more beautiful and graceful in a saddle. I become wiser too. I have to know every muscle of what I’m riding and how to make adjustments to balance my rather poorly built steed. It is the ultimate form of communication. Talking without saying a word. Maybe that’s what I feel I can do better on the back of a horse. I can communicate, I can calm, I can encourage, I can give confidence to Luke. If only I was as good with people…
Maybe it’s all of those things that I want or that I’d simply like to see his smile again, to hear that wonderful voice saying unforgettable words like, “Well, you sure can sit the trot,” which is what he said the one time he did see my ride.
That poetic statement was almost as special as my own words, the first time we rode in his car together. We were both stumbling with unfamiliarity. It was pretty quiet, save for the attempts by my sister to keep some sort of conversation going. My dad asked me what I though about Arizona. Besides meeting my family, it was the first time I’d been to the desert state.
I scrambled for something memorable and special to say but all I could come up with was, “It sure is dry.” Treasures, cherished treasures…
The last time I saw my dad alive, he didn’t see me as he was in a coma that he never came out of. After he died, and my siblings and I were looking through music and photos in his room, I saw a small piece of driftwood on the table by his bed. I noticed the hunk of wood because I had found it in the desert the last time I visited him.
I’m one of those people who are attracted to feathers, rocks, pine cones, fallen bird nests, and hunks of wood when I’m walking and will pick them up to set on a shelf or window sill. But I had a very full suit case and I was afraid the wood would just end up crumbled by the time I got home, so I left it outside on my dad’s deck. The twisted limb must have attracted his eye too, enough so that he took it inside and placed it by his bed.
It’s not likely the case, but in my imagination, my dad knew that I had found the dried up wood and liked it partially for that reason. And he was keeping it for me, planning to give it back to me the next time I visited. And so I did take the desert memento home with me, where it reminds me of the little things we shared.
When I was feeling bad that I hadn’t spent more time visiting my Dad, my ex once told me “He gave you up! You don’t owe that man anything!”
But, you see, I do owe him and my mom. I owe them for the gift of these memories, for my brothers and sisters, and for giving me a start in this life. And for that, I am thankful.
And in my imagination, they both realized when they met me, that I truly was always a part of them as much as they are a part of me.