I don’t get to the cemetery as much as I’d like. I’m not proud of it, and I wish I made a more-conscious effort. I can make excuses that life is busy or I’m always tired, but the fact of the matter is that my dad’s body lies in the ground only 15 minutes away. Perhaps that will be a new goal of mine.
I want to make a point to visit his grave because, as time has passed, my memory has seemingly faded. I recently stumbled upon an excerpt by my sister which read that she would never forget, that she would keep my father’s legacy fresh in her mind and close to her heart. Forgetting my father is my fear, too. In more than 10 years, I’m ashamed of things that I have forgotten, too easily replaced by current events in my own life.
In fact, as I have revisited my past through this blog, I have tried to recall things with unnerving intensity, to the point that my brain has been exhausted from concentration. I have had to have conversations with my family to help me remember things that were so tragically unordinary, things that stick out like a sore thumb. How could I possibly have forgotten that?
In my quest for clarity, I have willed my brain to accept what I can’t seem to remember, rehabilitating my mind with remembrance exercises. As I have searched for mental snapshots of childhood history on which to focus my memoir, little pieces of history have come back to me. But little those pieces are, leaving me to sort them into a coherent, holistic picture, alarming me that, just maybe, I have failed to keep my father close. My writings are equivalent to restoring some old, faded photos stuffed away in a shoebox in the attic. Was this on purpose? Have I stored away my childhood, far from remembrance? Have I chosen to forget?
It’s funny how the tiniest details stick in the brain, while personal watershed moments remain hidden mysteries. So as I looked at the calendar today, I noticed Father’s Day is quickly approaching. Many Father’s Days have come and gone since my dad’s passing in 2001, but this time, for whatever reason, the sight of those two words on the calendar reminded me of my dad’s orange hat.
With the words “#1 Dad” prominently displayed, the hat was a neon version of orange. After all, my sister and I gave it to him as a Father’s Day gift in the 1980s, a time marked by neon supremacy. At the time, it was the coolest hat we’d seen; as we shifted from the ’80s to the ’90s, that hat was the ugliest, an eyesore, a blow to all that is considered cool and trendy. Yet he wore that cap boastfully and proudly, much like a crown.
In retrospect, the hat was ironic, for he was far from the world’s greatest father. Relatively speaking, many dads out there have been better. Other dads have dabbled in philanthropy, volunteerism, and social change, things more deserving of #1 status. Or they’ve dedicated themselves to providing for their families’ emotional, financial, and physical needs, harboring a healthy, stable environment, devoid of alcohol, drugs, and behavioral unrest, for their kids to grow and be nourished.
In many ways, my mother was a better father, less the more-masculine traits such as teaching me about sports and girls. But he was our dad, and that we could not change. So we accepted and embraced that which was given to us, knowing full well that he was doing his best to be the best, despite continually falling short because of addictions fueled by a mixture of nature and nurture.
We saw him through a different lens then, but, as we matured and grew older, our perspective changed. Once upon a time, when the truth was hidden from us to protect us, we may have actually believed the words on that hat because we looked up to our father as protector and as one who bore god-like qualities. As our father’s true nature was revealed to us over the years and as we became wise enough to know the difference, the hat transformed into a symbol. Regardless of imperfections that made him imperfectly perfect, he was fit to be our dad, ours in a world of better dads.
Perhaps that won’t make sense to anyone else but me.