the last time I saw my Dad (in August, 1995). I’d just hopped off the Metra train eager to get home after a day’s work. Dad sat in his new car waiting for the train to pass at 71st & Stony Island. He honked when he saw me and pulled over to the curb. I skipped towards the car, a two door black Oldsmobile sedan and poked my head through the passenger’s window. I felt like walking and told him to go ahead on home. He told me to stop being silly. I sighed and got in the car. He drove the few short blocks to my condo a bit too slowly, both hands on top of the steering wheel. He’d only recently separated from my mother and I remember thinking how quickly his hair was turning gray.
Dad was always very laid back. This day he was quite chatty. He’d just finished golfing eighteen holes at Jackson Park golf course. I remember getting angry, telling him that was a really stupid thing to do. Chicago was experiencing record-breaking, scorching heat. People were dropping dead like flies. Dad ignored my snipe and mentioned seeing my brother fishing at the harbor.
Dad had just turned 57, my brother 23; their birthdays one day after the other, two head-butting Leos. Dad mentioned telling my brother to come home with him so he could get his birthday present, a $100. My brother said he’d get it later. Dad couldn’t understand this line of thinking. Who didn’t have time to get $100? I shrugged, and told Dad about my new Karate class. Dad turned the corner and snorted unable to understand why I’d be interested in anything like karate. He was a bit old school. Once when I told him I wanted to be a writer, he told me to learn how to type (on a typewriter!) instead. I’d be able to do more with it.
Dad parked in front of my building. I got out too quickly, and can recall vividly watching him watching me through the buildings glass door before he finally pulled off, leaving me still standing there thinking I should've invited him upstairs. I don’t remember hugging him or saying I love you. In fact, I know I didn’t.That night I dreamt of fire engines. The next morning I woke up late, missing the 7:14am train. Minutes later my grandmother called, screaming for me to come over. My father was dead.
Dad died sleeping on his right side, a jar of half eaten Planters peanuts on the floor near the top of the bed, his left thumb up. I was twenty six years old and the shock of seeing him this way felt like an elephant stepping on my head. I crumbled inside and wasted many days drinking a lot. It took more than three years for me to recover from my grief and function as a proper adult (“proper” being a bit of an overstatement). There were days I'd follow strangers, convinced Dad had come back from the dead. I’d see men resembling him on bus stops wearing similar shoes, or the tweed caps he favored in the fall and winter months.
Seventeen years, marriage and two kids later, I don’t think of Dad as often as I used to, no longer recognizing birthday and death anniversary’s; too consumed with working and raising a healthy and productive family. Lately though I’ve been under enormous pressure, the kind of strain where you have to remind yourself to breathe…Last night I went to bed early, my body clogged with congestion. At some point during my nighttime cold-medicine induced slumber Dad appeared, his large square head sprouting thick dark curls beneath a tweed cap, not looking a day over thirty-three. Tall and lanky in the dream he hovered beside me and encouraged my creativity.
I woke up early this morning, head still clogged with a bunch of goobly-gunk, yet energized with a new plan for reinvention, incredibly mindful of the indomitable power of a parent's love, and the necessity of remembrance.