For a long time after he died almost twelve years ago, I would press my nose into the nubby insides of it, breathing in deeply; I would be able to smell him, all the smells that made him what he was to me – Marlboro cigarettes in the hard red box, Polo cologne, Trident gum, felt tip pens and cheap yellow legal pads. Northern California and a foggy beach. A good steak and baked potato. A fire on a cold night. Red licorice. Oranges, sliced. I could smell the good music, the fleece vests, the hug that enveloped you hard and warm and then let you go quickly.
My dad wasn’t really around much when I was little; the memories I have of him from then are like strands of gossamer – so thin that you reach for one and you’re not really sure it’s something you are holding onto or not. We reconnected late; I was fourteen, he was forty (younger than I am now) and we found one another through writing. Letters to one another first, then sharing our projects. He was my biggest fan; he was the reason I became a writer instead of say, a psychologist or a professional chocolate consumer or post office worker. He believed in me, in my writing, in my obligation to do something with it.
He gave me the gift of believing in myself. Still. Even now that he is no longer here to remind me.
It would be his 69th birthday today. I’ve been thinking about him a lot today, hoping he knows I’m really, really well and so very lucky and grateful to him and to my extraordinarily ordinary, lovely life. I’ve also been thinking about my kids – about what they will remember of me one day. I hope Reese will remember that I smell like lavender (sometimes and sometimes not) and that I am in awe of her kindness, her intelligence, her strength. I hope she will remember all the talks we had in my dad’s rocking chair every night before bed these past nine years, the giggling, the whispering, her arms wrapped tightly around my neck; I hope she will remember all the tiny special moments, all the times when I said yes to one more goodnight kiss, one more cookie, one more minute playing outside in the hot summer night. I hope she will remember that I wore the necklace we bought together on my most special days, keeping her heart next to my heart. I hope Finn will remember that I stood still and listened to his jokes, watched him tie his shoe again and again and held his face in my hands and reminded him of how good he is, how kind, how smart. I hope he remembers how proud I am of his creativity, his energy, his sureness of movement. I hope he will remember my rubbing his back every night until his breath slowed down for the first time all day and his head rested in the crook of my arm, just like when he was a baby.
It is on these days I realize that it won’t likely be the big stuff that our kids remember one day. At least it’s not for this now grown up kid. What I’m holding close today are all the collective moments; the way it feels to know that someone in the world believes that you are indeed so very special.
My dad thought he had nothing to give me when he died but in fact it was just the opposite – he gave me a bag overflowing with everything I truly needed. I only hope I can do the same.