Yesterday my dear friend Iquo wrote this great piece calling for a National Day of Mourning, charging that Americans simply do not know how to mourn. She's so right. And she followed up with this thoughtful blogpost about her own experience coping with the loss of her mother.
I'm inspired by her. So to claim my right to mourn my own way, and to commemorate what would have been my dad's 58th birthday, this blogpost is about dad. This is the first post here where I'm cutting my heart open a little bit and exposing some of what's been going on underneath my sometimes too-thick skin. Not easy, not fun. But if we don't acknowledge the pain we are going through, how can we heal?
Today, August 1st, is my dad’s birthday. He would be 58. It has been just over a year since he died and the wound is so fresh that sometimes it feels like he died last week. I’m listening to Al Green. Every time I listen to Al Green I think of my dad, and every time I hear the song “I’m so tired of being alone,” I cry. Not because of the lyrics, which actually are pretty heart wrenching. But because when I think of this song, I recall one of my favorite memories of my dad: listening to him sing this song (quite badly), perhaps when he thought no one was listening.
One of my dad's favorite activities was to sit at the computer and listen to sirius radio--gospel (The Blind Boys of Alabama), soul (Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield), hip hop (TuPac was one of his favorites), jazz (Hot Lips Page, Coltrane). For some reason Al Green is who I think of most immediately when I think about my dad quietly singing out bits and pieces of the songs he listened to with the headphones on. He sang it like he had a secret he was bursting to tell. Every now and then you’d just hear him leak out part of the song, then it was back to whispers again, then nothing, then another audible word sung off key, then he was quiet again. And he would snap his fingers so loud I could hear it from downstairs. His voice was… truly not good. I would crack up at his singing voice. But I would mainly laugh because it was so endearing and it filled me with love to hear him. He was being himself. His guard was down. He was home, with me, with no judgments and no critical eyes/ears.
I have met my fair share of brilliant minds, both in academia and in "the real world", but I am completely confident in saying that my dad was one of the most intellectually gifted people I've ever met and spoken with. He was a sponge when it came to data. Music, politics, technology, history, food, pop culture, trivia--he could discuss it all, and make you feel like you need to spend a couple of hours in the library. He was deep. And back in the day, I'm told, he was also an amazing poet.
Today, if my dad were alive, we wouldn't do much for his birthday. He'd be going to work at 4pm, so we'd probably just go to Starbucks in the morning, and he'd order a decaf short mocha, no whip, and I'd get a tall skim chai. We might go to Geraldine's Counter, a nearby diner, and he'd get a cobb salad and maybe some iced tea and I'd get sweet potato fries and chili. Or his girlfriend Kathy would come with her daughter Kelly, and we'd go to a Caribbean restaurant and he'd get oxtail or curry goat and a mango lemonade.
He would not want a cake or ice cream because he wasn't into sweets. And he never wanted gifts. Sometimes I'd just get him something small although I would usually just get him a card. But if I had one more chance to celebrate his birthday, I'd get him a fly cowboy hat in a beautiful wood box. Or a plane ticket to Indonesia to practice Pentjak Silat, the martial art in which he earned a black belt. Or a fishing pole and a trip to British Columbia or the San Juan Islands where he could go fishing.
I miss my dad for his humility, his complex and fascinating mind, his advice, his cooking, his laugh, his strength, his character, his hug. I miss the protective covering that he was for me, even well into my adulthood. I miss the security that I felt sitting in the room with him.
I feel cheated. From my wedding dance, from the chance to see him look my first child in the eye, from the chance to see him as an old man. It makes me so angry I feel physically warmer thinking about this. So I usually don't. But Iquo is right. We don't take the time to deal with our grief and we don't figure out how to deal with it. Then an anniversary or a birthday happens and we are knocked in the face with the grief we've been ignoring.
So as much as I'd like to hit "pause" and stop everything until I'm ready to move forward, I know that I can't do that. My dad, a very practical man, would not want this for me. He lost his father at age 10--totally had to uproot his life because of it--but he moved forward and lived a good, although in my opinion short life. My mom lost her father when she was 26, the same age I was, and she moved forward and lived a good, but again short life. I have to move forward too, and appreciate every day I am given by making the most of it. If I don't, what does that say about the love my parents gave me, the dreams they had for me, the sacrifices they made for me? I have to do it.
So I'm glad for today, my dad's birthday. It is a reminder of the importance of taking a little time to breathe, reflect, remember, and hopefully recover from deep loss. I know I'll never be the same, and after only one year without my dad, I know I've got quite a process ahead of me. But I'm going to face it unafraid, because dad would want me to.