This year, in December, it will be fifteen years since my father died. His presence feels further and further away as time passes. That’s what happens to the departed – they recede into something sketchy and fragmentary. Spectral-like. Not random loose bits and pieces zig-zagging about, but not whole either. Yes, I can accurately recall the precise tone and timbre of my father’s voice, and his body movements and shape when he walked or sat in a chair. But he’s not here. The full man, ghostly or otherwise, is simply not here. He’s not here to DO anything or SAY anything or exert any action or influence. He’s not here to solve problems, lose his temper, or play his trumpet, or mix a martini … or give me shit about one thing or another.
If we make a conscious, deliberate effort to ‘bring’ the dead to us, we can conjure them in our minds and forcibly make them return. But it’s a temporary sensation … and a strained one. I know there are many people who sincerely believe and swear that they feel the actual, living presence of a departed loved one, and even communicate with them. I heard a lot of that, expressed very earnestly, in my grief counseling group. God bless those folks, truly. But I guess I differ on this subject. To me, the absence is thoroughly overpowering. So much so that all the living memories in the world can’t tamp it down. If anything, all the conjuring and remembering only amplifies the absence. I honestly feel like the dead are perfectly secure in their escape from earthly affairs and having shuffled off their mortal coil. It’s us, the living, who insist that they finish their business and continue their roles in our lives. But really, let’s face it, they’re done with us. And they probably wish we’d stop bothering them. John Kennedy is somewhere in the afterlife thinking, “You fuckers shot me in the head. Leave me alone now, ok? I’m out.”
This photo was taken on my wedding day, September 19, 1998. Dad and I in the limo on our way to church. When we got to the upper east side of Manhattan we unexpectedly hit serious traffic due to the Steuben Day Parade on Fifth Avenue. So yeah, my father and I were late to my wedding! I remember making a crack about it to my Dad, because he and I were habitually the ‘late’ types of our family, while my brother and my mother were always perfectly, and annoyingly, on time. A propensity for lateness was one of many behavioral and character traits he and I shared.
This photo makes me laugh because, on what was supposed to be a joyous day, both my father and I look like we were headed to the guillotine. But I can break down what’s going on here. Dad was just nervous about all the planning and hoping that things would go smoothly, fidgeting with his bow tie as he eyed the Saturday traffic. And I, with my “What the hell am I doing?” expression, was wrestling with uncertainty and apprehension about the whole thing. An apprehension well beyond mere wedding day “cold feet”. It turns out that my instincts were correct, as instincts always are. The marriage was over after four years. And Dad would die of a stroke two years after that. Maybe both of us should have just stayed in that limo and kept on driving.
Given the strife and difficulties I’ve had to endure with my family these past couple of years, I’ve come to resent my father for having stranded me with my mother and my brother. It’s incredibly stupid, I know. My father didn’t have a stroke and die on his bedroom floor on purpose. But my current frustrations and hopelessness have led me to this irrational, inane interpretation. Mom and Chris are profoundly aligned in personality. That makes me outnumbered, unheard, and unable to maneuver effectively without a wingman. Dad abandoned me to deal with them all by myself, and I’m furious at him for it. So when sincere, well-meaning people counsel me to seek guidance from my father’s ‘spirit’ I can’t help but think to myself, “Oh please. That is sooo not helpful”. He’s not here. He did his best and made a great impact when he was here. But he’s not here now. That’s the reality.
Understand that I’m not discounting the significance of memories, and past experiences, or the lasting influence of loved ones. We can and will continue to play the ‘conjuring’ game, in which we mistake echos for present vibrations, transplant a voice from the past into this afternoon, and deceive ourselves into thinking the dead haven’t already fully and completely moved on to the kingdom. We can always do this, and seek solace in such a way. It harms no one to do it. But for this Father’s Day, I will just messily and angrily confront the blinding, handicapping void left by my father’s absence, banging away at the keys on my laptop right now as I gulp down red wine and vent that I’m super pissed off at him for not being here. But also, I’ll conjure up the limo ride on those gridlocked Manhattan streets in pre-911 New York City one more time. My Dad’s tie, my unkempt bridal veil, and a throng of marching German-American New Yorkers waving to us at red lights. Love you Dad, and miss you more than you know. Happy Father’s Day guys …