I had planned to post a Father’s Day reflection. After writing it, I hunted through my photo files for a picture of my dad, who died in 2003. Although I had a digital camera since, I think, the mid-1990s (it’s become difficult to remember the precise timeline of technological change), I found none among the thousands of images I’ve saved, except several depressingly frail ones taken at the end of his life. I realized that for the past twenty years, during which I’ve spent about fifty percent of my time away from the home containing the majority of my worldly possessions, the only place I’ve carried his memory is in my own. Although I grew up in an era when childhoods were documented far more sporadically than they are nowadays – occasional birthdays, major holidays, vacations – I realized that none of us were enthusiastic shutterbugs.
Have I really spent so many years wandering the world without a picture of my dad anywhere but in my memory? I can see him so clearly, vividly feel his embrace and rough cheek against mine, hear his voice and colorful, if not always politically, correct quips: he’s duller than four miles of concrete, she had a face like a torn pocket, it was hotter than the hinges of Hades. He called me Macushla, after the 1912 song undoubtedly sung to him as a child by his Irish mother, and never had nicknames for either my sister or mother. I was the light of his life – his darling, as the word roughly translates – and we had a powerful, empathetic bond.
He lived in the moment, as I do, mostIy. The past poked up occasionally, sometimes in the form of nightmares from his stint as a medic on the front lines in the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two. During my childhood, he would wake screaming in the night, a traumatic experience that for me became routine, if puzzling. PTSD (like sexual harrassment) didn´t surface as a concept until I was an adult.
He taught me by example to revel in the moment, to perceive in the most profound way the damp, fertile aroma of garden soil and the salty Atlantic air, the crunch of snow underfoot, the feel of rough bark and smoothly planed wood, the feel of the wind when your eyes are closed and it whistles past your ears, the difference between Piatigorsky’s and Casals’s interpretations of Brahms’s Cello Concerto No. 1. The richness and variety of the sensorial world that we all too often take for granted. And how one can abandon thought and rest in pure consciousness in order to enjoy these singular treasures, and turn to their memories in moments when the world didn’t offer them.