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Father's Day Without Dad

I wrote this for my father's memorial six years ago. We had a concert, told stories, and read poetry instead of a wake or funeral. Some Father's Day sting more than others. This is one of them.

Three months have passed

since we flew to Minneapolis

and drove madly through

the winter rain,

to see you at dawn,

to be with you

for the last time.

You weren’t communicating,

not really.

You could nod or

shake your head,

let us know if the pain

was bad,

or worse.

You laughed when I said,

“You really know how to

throw a party.”

And I guess that

was your last word

to me.

And when the day slowed,

I crawled into your bed

and slept beside you.

Your fragile frame long

and delicate against me,

your throbbing heart

tattooing my soul,

and your breath by turn

shallow or deep,

raspy or full.

I longed for whispers,

for parting wisdom

or comfort.

I, just your little girl

in the end.

But you only gave me


that I already had.

My life with Dad.


Your habit was to whistle

no matter where you were.

We called it “The Locator”

and could identify

and find you by following

your unique trills and tones.

I’d give anything to hear

that now…

but I pause, and see the past


A six year old me

sitting beside you on the couch

head against your side

your heartbeat guiding mine.

An afternoon of football

was at hand.

The smell of liquor

punctuated the air as you spoke.

I just liked the color of the field

and the half-time show.

I adored the sting of vodka

tonic in my nose,

watching the tendrils of

smoke drift, from the end

of your cigarette to

meet the plume from

Grampa’s Tiparillo.

I adored the fact that you

sat through the half-time

entertainment just to

please me.

At ten, you gave me my

first camera—a Kodak

Dualflex, with a

viewfinder that opened

from the top, and had

an extremely impressive

flash attachment.

It was a great camera

for a little girl

whose hands shook regularly

and without rhythm.

Personal earthquakes

destined to destroy any

thoughts of a photography


but you didn’t care.

You liked the way I saw

the world

and this made me pay


Fourteen, as an agitated

adolescent, I fought

invisible foils,

and watched the late, late,

late show movies on T.V.

with you—

on school nights.

We dined on over salted popcorn

and split Claussen dills.

And Mom would look at us,

shaking her head

mumbling a few words

about me needing to go to bed.

But we were in cahoots,

bonding over old movies and food,

and late night reruns of

Dr. Who…

But it wasn’t enough,

not for me.

I gave in to the urge

to flee, for no reason.

I think I was looking

for someone

who would love me as

much, or even more,

than you loved Mom…

She was who you

spoke of the most,

her beauty, her presence,

anchoring you both.

Of course, decades

passed—before I

was old enough to

find this. And I

thank you, for

teaching me patience.

But back to those years,

when I launched into

selfish mode, the

prodigal daughter,

wasting her life with

youthful extravagance.

You waited.

Standing by the windows,

willing me home.

And soon enough,

your hope pulled me back

to the place of

my Mother’s love;

and together, you nourished

and enfolded me.

But my heart will always

break a little, when I think

of you, waiting,

beside those windows,

in the small hours of night…

You’ve supported my efforts,

Dad. Well, mostly.

You were never a fan of

my teenage dream—The

Gong Show. “That’s not

a goal!” you scolded,


And you talked me right

out of enlisting, saying

I had problems with

authority—that I’d end up

in the brig—that getting in

shape was no reason

to join the army.

Of course you were right,

and I think the

recruiters may still be

mad at you, a bit.

To them I was a number,

a quota filled.

To you I was your stubborn,

free-minded daughter,

who followed crazy dreams

to dark places.

But you never loved me less

for this.

And now I understand

that you were proud of

my existence,

that you felt the earth

was a better place

because of the children

you gave it.

You were so very proud

of all of us.

And I know, Daddy,

that it was better, this planet,

with your presence—

for the way you let

it fill you, for the way

you held your place

in it.

And I will wake up,

on Father’s Day,

and picture you


sailing into as many sunsets

as you imagine,

with every dog we’ve

ever had, windblown and

poised along the prow,

tails wagging and


glancing back,

smiles glinting in their eyes,

because life with you

is good.

And I picture you

smiling back at your life,

at us,

because it was good,

it was enough.

Happy Father’s Day…


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