My dad has been dead for 2 1/2 years, which makes this my third Father’s Day without him, I guess. After this kind of time has passed, I can walk past the Father’s Day card display at the store without crying, which is nice. I don’t think I’ll ever walk past it without thinking of him, though.
Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 71. It tore my heart out to lose him like that. I think about him every day and miss all kinds of different things about him. We spent a lot of time together, so not having him around is strange. That space he filled in my life, which was a pretty big one, is still empty. Nothing else and no one else has seeped in to fill in any of that gap. It’s still a hole. But, again, thanks to the passing of time, it’s a hole that generally doesn’t leave me gasping and crying about anymore. It’s one I notice and think about; the hole now reminds me of all that used to fill it. I just think about all the things we did together, all we had in common, and all we would talk about.
As a mother, I understand pretty well how my mom felt years ago when she was a stay-at-home mom to three kids. I know exactly why she had to get us out of the house sometimes to JUST BE ALONE, for crying out loud. But what’s funny now is that because she sent my dad out with us kids to give her some quiet time, I now have all kinds of great memories of spending time with Dad. In her efforts to get us out of her hair, she gave us a gift.
Dad took us all kinds of places. We never lived in any big towns, mainly rural areas, so there probably wasn’t a lot to choose from in the way of cool ready-made activities, but my dad found the seeds of treasured memories. He took us to a nature preserve we just called “the deer park,” near Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.
It was this wonderful wooded area that had a large fenced-off area within the trees that was dotted with deer. Mom would give us some supplies from our food storage, and off we’d go to stick our hands inside the fence and feed the deer some dried corn or wheat or something. We’d feel the roughness of their tongues as they licked the food right off our palms. In my memory, the area seemed quite large; walking around the whole perimeter was a long distance. There’s no telling how big it really was, but it still seems vast to me inside my head.
Dad also took us to little local museums and to parks and creeks. On one trip to a creek, he took some photos that document forever how he put my little sister’s bikini top on upside down. He took lots of photos, which he developed as slides. So we don’t have family albums; we have boxes full of slide trays. I even have good memories of sitting with our family in the quiet and dark of an evening watching the slides. I can hear the whir of the fan on the old slide projector and smell its mechanical smell as I think about it now, even.
All those rural areas gave us so many places to roam and play. We lived in Pennsylvania, where there was plenty of snow. Dad would take us sledding, steering us on our big Flexible Flyer down hills packed with snow. It was wonderful. We would also go on walks, hiking around through the woods and lanes where we lived on farms, observing and talking. He took pictures of those times, too.
I could go on and on about all the memories I have of Dad, but it would take up a book, and it would probably bore you. What’s important is that I have memories to treasure. Now that he’s gone and I won’t see him for a while, I can pick those little gems out of my mind and browse them at my leisure, keeping myself company with what we had together while I wait to see him again. It’s Father’s Day today, and I remember him and honor his memory. But every single day he’s gone is just another opportunity for me to think back, to treasure those memories, and to thank him within myself for what he left behind. And Mom, thanks for making him leave the house with us.