making it so hard to complete that you can’t even understand

Written a year ago:

One of the chief good trappings of this day was that my father came along with us. He has been feeling better, despite new tumor growths in his lungs and bones. His good spirits seem largely due to the fact he’s had more than two months off chemo (his choice). It’s sad to see him off chemo because chemo keeps him alive (albeit tortured and sick). It’s almost, in its way, even sadder to see his hair thicken and his skintone liven and his skinny 6′ 3″ frame gain a few pounds. He starts to look startlingly good. I look at him and think to myself, imagine how healthy and hale he would be now without cancer treatment these last eight years. This is almost the worst kind of thought to think because it takes me back to What Could Have Been, a place I for the most part abandoned and don’t often glance at.

This is my first Father’s Day without my father. It hurts. I think to myself of all those who celebrate the day with platitudes or some kind of gift they know their dad won’t much care for. I think of the demeaning, silly, and two-dimensional stereotypes of “dad” that we sometimes laugh about or celebrate or grow maudlin about and how I’ve never had any use for them (dad likes fishin’ or football or let’s grill him something on the barbecue, har har, as if that’s in any way the summation of a man). I challenge us to look a little harder, to care a little more, to learn to be still and present with the ones you love.

My dad did so many things for me I feel grateful for. The gift I most reflect on is that he accepted me and knew me for who I was. He did not try to correct me or change me – even the parts of me he didn’t like. This probably means more to me than almost anything else about my upbringing. He cared for us and stayed with us and made money for us but mostly he brought us into his life and accepted us as his own. He knew me about as well as anyone. He did not pretend I was someone I wasn’t. He paid attention to me. I remember once feeling sad in a roomful of people and I knew he was watching; he was the only person who knew something was wrong. I remember when Sophie first started school and I was just about to drive off after visiting my parents and my dad came to the window of my van and said he’d done the math, and he’d figured out that since Nels went to preschool about seven hours a week, I’d had this many hours of free time in my life since children. This was something new to me too and I was amazed he’d plucked it out of my mind and given form to the concept of freedom, to the weight I’ve felt since bringing children into the world.

I think of how difficult it was, impossible really, for me to say to him with words what he meant to me and how much I loved him. Sometimes I feel terrible about this. Other times I think that it makes sense: neither he or I tend to be verbally demonstrative. He had to know how much I loved him. Because I know I said it with every other part of me, every other part. I bought and made him gifts, I hugged him, and spent time with him, and talked with him, I brought him music and made him food he loved, and enjoyed his company more than most anyone else I’ve known. He is one of the very few people I felt open, curious, and trusting towards when it came to advice – and I know he loved giving it. And I really gave, a tremendous amount, in the last week, days, hours, and minutes of his life. I gave a thousand percent and something broke inside me but was mended again even in the awesome impossible fact he’d left me for once and for all.

This morning my husband, son, and daughter wrote and recorded a new song:

it’s hard to complete – by ralph, sophie, & nels ( download mp3 file )

Happy Father’s Day!

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