You may remember this post, where I wondered if anyone would tell me if my father had passed on. Two weeks ago I received my answer in the form of a phone call from my mother. My father passed away on July 11, 2011, a few days after his 66th birthday.
Grief is one of those human experiences that we study obsessively through our stories and art, as we try to understand it and prepare for it when it touches our own lives. My fear had been that I would feel no sadness or loss from his passing, and because of that, I would be revealed as some kind of defective, emotionally dysfunctional human monster. I’m still afraid of not being normal, of people finding out that I’m broken, and yes, I know this is an irrational fear.
I wasn’t numb or unaffected. I had not seen my father for almost 20 years, and the last few years of our family life together were ugly for everyone involved, but the news of his death was a punch to my gut. A sinking sense of finality. I felt the urge to lash out and rage in response to the news, but some presence of mind kept me from that. Instead, I finished the phone call and decided to go out for a run to process my feelings.
I set out along one of my normal routes, with no set time frame or distance in mind. As I made my way down the street, I looked up into the sky at the television broadcast tower that loomed in the distance. I grew up in the shadow of that tower, with our backyard backing onto the field that the tower stands in. The tower marks the location of my first memories, a real-life map pin that shows where my life began.
I plotted out a new route, one that took me into my old neighborhood and past my childhood home. As I ran towards the old house, I went through the scattered snapshot memories that I have of my childhood. I rummaged through those few memories for nice moments involving my dad.
I jogged down my old street and I slowed down to a walk as I passed in front of the old house. I looked at the front yard where my dad, my brother and I played ball and tag. The yard where my dad taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat. Through the front window, I saw the living room where we had watched the space shuttle Columbia launch in 1982, and my dad remarking afterwards “hey, that’s the first time you’ve ever whistled.” And I remembered the one conversation in the basement when he told me how sad he was that I never had a chance to meet his father. “He was a great guy. You would have liked him”.