I remember certain things about my dad: how he wore the ugliest boat shoes ever; how soft his silver hair felt; how he liked to eat his eggs mixed with potatoes and his tuna fish soaked with tons of lemon juice. He drank only coffee and water when he wasn’t drinking scotch, he loved watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and every once in awhile, I saw him reading a book, which made him seem more interesting to me for some reason. I remember the rock paper-weight I painted for him was in his top bureau drawer along with all the other things he probably forgot were there, he owned too many pairs of white socks that nobody ever wanted to match up and roll into sock-balls, and he smelled of cigarettes and Paco Rabanne.
However, going fishing with him when I was a little girl probably remains my most significant memory because those were the only times I actually spent time with him at all. We’d wake up at some ridiculous hour, maybe 4:30 am, pack up our bologna sammies, a thermos of water and some chips, and then get our poles together for our day on the water. We’d pull into Freeport’s Nautical Mile while it was still dark outside, unload all of our stuff, and bring it onto the boat we’d spend half the day on. Then we’d go find a stool at the counter in the greasy diner where we always ate our before-fishing breakfast of eggs, toast and home fries. By the time we were done eating, the sun would be up and the morning actually looked like morning.
We’d settle into our spot on the party boat, defrost our spearing and squid and wait to depart. I always felt awkward being alone with my dad because I really didn’t know how to have a conversation with him. But by the time the boat pulled away, that awkwardness dissipated. My dad would talk about the buoys, and how the captain knew where to anchor and just anything about fishing in general. I’d ask him questions and he’d always be happy to provide the answers. By the end of each fishing trip, I had a lot of fluke in my bucket and a new appreciation for the kind of relationship I could have with my dad.
Until I became a teenager, that is, and I eschewed fishing trips with my dad for nonsense time with my friends, trips to the mall with my boyfriend, or simply the allure of my warm bed. I was too cool and too busy for my dad, or so I thought, and as an adult looking back now, I would bet my eyeballs that he probably felt at least a little bit deserted and disappointed.
As kids, we all think our parents will live to be gray, shrunken shadows of their youthful selves so how could I have known I should have ditched my friends in order to hurry up and make memories with my dad because he’d be dead by the time I was nineteen? At almost 40, I don’t have nearly enough memories of him to be at peace with his death. He missed too much:
…my first experience at college, even if it was only Nassau
…walking me down the aisle and dancing with me. To this day, it’s too hard for me to watch anyone dance with their fathers.
…the joy of being a grandpa. After suffering with 4 females his whole life, he missed enjoying 2 grandsons and one princess.
…holding his oldest daughter’s hand through brain cancer and survival, and holding up his wife, as well.
… seeing all three of his girls as women, watching us stumble through life, picking us up when we fell down, cheering us on when we deserved it or simply because we needed it. And boy, do I need it now.
…teaching his grandkids how to bait a hook and how to tell when it was a fish or a crab biting the line.
…seeing his granddaughter at her first dance recital, being dissed by her dance partner but taking control to a roomful of applause.
…seeing his grandson –my son - on stage dancing like nobody’s business, shocking the shit out of everyone, especially me.
…watching me make that monumental walk across the Hofstra stage at almost 40 years old, finally earning my Bachelor’s Degree.
Admittedly, this blurb is pretty random and is basically just a self-serving recognition of my mistakes as a kid and my sadness at those realizations as an adult. It’s frustrating knowing I have to make an effort to remember his voice and how very few times I spent alone with him. I hate knowing I’ve spent half of my life without him and how I forgot what having a father is like. I hate the fact that I will never be able to know what kind of relationship I could have had with him as a grown daughter, instead of only having memories of being a young, selfish teenager.
I know there’s nothing I can do because, even though I hate to say this, but it is what it is. I suppose if anything at all, the tiny consolation of having a few memories will have to carry me through.
At least until they fade…