Sunday, March 28, 2010


Dads are the ultimate paradox for me - dependable, sturdy, constant. And yet the dads of my childhood, including my own, did not last long. I met only one of my grandfathers ever and my own dad died when I was 10 years old - he was just 4 years older than I am now. Uncles and dads of friends seemed to disappear at regular intervals in my formative years. My father-in-law died before the "in-law" part could be made official.

My best friend's dad died tonight. He was in his 80's, so not so very temporary as many. But still, my childhood conviction that dads just can't stay as long as moms is reinforced.

I remember leaning on my father's shoulder at church, the feeling of the stalwart tweed suit jacket material on my cheek. It felt forever, dependable. But it wasn't long before I had to switch that shoulder out with my mom's narrower shoulder - that is, when it was my turn among the 10 of us.

On Wednesday Addison had an EEG. The neurologist is a very soft spoken man with a substantial accent. I leaned in and put all I had into receiving what he had to say. I listened, I let go of my cautious skepticism and I believed. I trusted. He is a slightly stout and bent man with olive skin, a conspicuous wedge nose, salt and pepper mustache, deep set eyes and thick eyebrows framed by dark rimmed glasses. His white doctor's coat could easily be swapped for a chemist's lab coat. The remarkable resemblance to my father (a chemist) in his 40's is disorienting at first and then calming. The neurologist did not need to convince. The benefit of the doubt was his for the taking. A frightening experience, but I found peace enough to transfer some to my sweet girl.

Earlier today I rushed from the coffee shop to my car, a hundred things on my mind that needed doing before the week's marathon of meetings and prep. But I was slowed to a near halt as I caught a certain strain in the air. A homey old fashioned smell, dark and relaxed - a very Sunday smell. Apple pipe tobacco. I honed in on the older man it came from. He puffed and looked back somewhat defensively. I thought, no, not dad. Of course not. But I gave the man part credit anyway - credit for making a pipe and tobacco choice that put my dad in front of me again for a moment. I don't think the grateful half smile I offered was expected.

I have been without my father for 32 years. But I am still being raised by him.

As a child, I spent as much time at my best friend's house as I did at my own, just 3 doors down. She sat at the table with my huge family and I sat at the table with her huge family for countless dinners. My many siblings teased her as if she were another of us and hers cajoled me in the same way. After my father died, her father offered to walk me down the aisle at my future wedding.

My parenting decisions, my thinking as a human in general, are drawn from 2 houses, from 2 sets of guardians - my own parents, and my best friend's parents. And thus it has been for many years, despite the lack of daily contact with my friend's family for the past 20+ years. I spend a lot of time in their house still, in my mind. It is a place of open comfort and acceptance, of humor, of unflappable loyalty.

And so, for me, it will continue. I will always look for and see Larry in others. I will be brought back into the sweet green enclave of their yard by the smell of dill and blacktop, into their buzzing home at the mere mention of popcorn, Golden Girls, the Horicon Horns. When I pass a house sporting a lawn sign, - though it bears other words, my mind's eye reads Larry's name, Clerk of Courts. When things get cluttered and complicated, when I need to get back down to essentials, I flash back to the countless times our tiny girl knees bent in a crouch inside my friend's parents' closet, sifting through a box of mementos, turning each over, guessing at meaning - these vestiges that signified the highlights for her parents and left the inconsequential things to fall away outside of the box.

I am made up of my childhood. So I am made up partly of Larry and the rest of his family. So are my children and so will theirs be. To use a word we never spared as children: infinity.

His family and friends ache with loss. Though she is nearly 4,000 miles away right now, I hope my friend can feel me sitting nudged right up next to her side, like we used to sit as little girls.

There is no end, Larry - just a constant, strong, wide wake behind you.


Kelly said...

Beautifully written...smells can always transport me back to a place in time and it sounds like you are the same.
My grandfather is battling lung cancer right now and I have really be thinking about the huge role he played in my life and how he shaped who I am...I am not ready to loose him...

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dad. We ARE shaped by our parents, and we are lucky we had parents who had a positive effect!
Lindsey Petersen

KT said...

I felt you Terri. And I feel you now. Thanks for being there. said...

Beautiful words that convey beautiful feelings, and sadness, and love. Thank you Terry for being part of our family, and part of my father's life. I remember your Dad...and am so glad mine could be there not to replace your Dad, but to augment what your Dad gave you...and us...