I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I do this pretty frequently anyhow, but since I had my surgery last Thursday, you’ve been on my mind.
I’ve particularly thought of you as I’ve laid around in your very own flannel pajama pants. I think I thought these pajamas were kind of fuddy-duddy when I was a teenager, and probably goofed on them. But in the nearly eight years since you’ve been gone, I have worn them often, and they are the perfect item to slip over my ginormous foot boot.
This reminds me of you in your various recovery boots and chemotherapy ports over the years, as you battled your torn Achilles tendon and lymphoma. You were always trying to find clothes that didn’t exacerbate the weird pieces of machinery attached to and coming out of your body. I remember how you could never get comfortable in your leg cast at night. I feel much more empathetic about that, now that I’ve spent nights trying to get comfortable in an unnatural position. (At least the flannel has helped a little.)
I used to curse the enormous Thrasher feet you gave me. My size 15 EEEE feet have been for me, like yours were often for you, a pain in the ass. And yet, Dad, you’ll be happy to know, their size finally came in handy! When my doctor wanted to remove the extra bunion growth from the sides, the size of my Thrasher bones made it easier for him. He couldn’t have been happier with how my skeleton’s x-rays are now looking.
My large bones, and the firm foundation they give me on my feet, are but a metaphor of the many, many things I am grateful to you for giving me on this Father’s Day, Dad. When I was 25 you left me far too soon, but you left me a treasure trove of an inheritance, in terms of the example of your journey, the lessons you taught me, and the ways I’d grow to connect with your life challenges as I experienced similar ones myself. The older I get, the more I feel I get to know you, and the more I grow to love and appreciate you.
There was so much I didn’t yet understand about you when you died. I knew you were an imperfect man with a near perfect work ethic, and I knew that you loved me very much. But I didn’t understand, until I started to actively work towards achieving civil rights as a gay American, what you’d gone through trying to achieve civil rights as a black American. I didn’t yet know how courageous you were when you lost a battle yet soldiered on in the longer war (using peaceful means). I had no idea how you dealt with the indignity of being treated as a second class citizen.
When you died, I didn’t yet understand how much you loved me. I didn’t understand what it was for you to work full time as my high school’s assistant principal (which was utterly aggravating to my teen self at times), and to teach community college two nights a week, and to help run mom’s upholstery shop. Now, after a long work day, I can’t imagine taking care of a child on top of it all, but you did it.
When you died, I didn’t yet understand that I was gay. I’m sorry I didn’t get to share this with you. (Although I think, when you kept trying to tell me that it was OK that I was “interested in ballet,” I think you were giving me permission to come out to you. Sorry I didn’t take the hint, but you understood, even better than I did, that the timing had to be right for me.)
When you died, I didn’t realize (as Jinger tried to convince me) that someday the throbbing pain would disappear somewhat, replaced largely by smiles as I thought of the many things you loved and which we shared: Popcorn. Pineapple pie. Drives to Santa Barbara to get ice cream. Popcorn (bagged). CFO. The Space Shuttle. “The Green Hornet.” Comedy Radio. American history. Politics. Seinfeld. “Hello, Newman.” The jar of Ultra Sheen always in the bathroom. Avoiding bad potluck dishes at St. Paul’s. Movies in Ventura. Baker’s Square. La Fiesta. Popcorn (at the movies). Denise. Snowflake. Conducting an imaginary symphony. Seeing Nelson Mandela. Protests with Bev Edmonds. Thanksgiving at the homeless shelter. Popcorn (microwaved). Grilling in the backyard. Learning about new things. Vin Scully. The Los Angeles Dodgers. Love.
When you died, I didn’t yet know I’d be a professional writer. You did, and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. You never got to earn your living as a writer, but gave your all so that I could. And when you walked into the Star Free Press office, chided them for having only white writers, and demanded they let you write your “Minority Perspective” column, you did two things. You translated your frustration into the written word, and you gave me the chutzpah to eventually walk into the New York Times building and demand that they publish me a few decades later.
How can I ever thank you for all that you ever gave me? For giving me the gift of life, and showing me how hard so much of it would be, but that it’s the hard parts of life that make it worth living? For loving me and taking care of me as your son, even though it complicated your life incredibly? For giving so much of yourself in your work ethic to provided for our family? For standing up for what was right, even when it hurt you professionally, and even when there was no evidence that doing the right thing was going to bear any fruit? For showing me the breadth, confusion and dynamism of being an accident prone, hard working, evolutiationary human being? For teaching me the importance of asking for and granting forgiveness? For working up to the last minute moment of your life, trying to share with your body and heart what you’d learned with others?
Jinger was right. The smiles and laughs come more often than the tears, now. Still, I will love and miss you always.
Happy Father’s Day, dad.