My father was born seventy years ago today. This morning I was thinking about what it has been like in the twenty months since he has been gone, and I can't seem to come up with the one word to describe it. There is no one emotion or feeling that rises above all others.
I am an arch-realist. It is the one trait that I can unequivocally say I inherited from Dad. I have never known someone who looked at life in the way that he did, how he kept everything in the proper perspective. He was never overly excited, he was never overly down. He was as steadfast a person who has ever lived a day on this planet. As I look back on things I am thankful for his gift, the way he taught me to be realistic, because it helped me immeasurably when he passed away. I had accepted that fact that in the normal course of life, a son buries his father. I was ready for that long before it actually had to happen. I have never felt any anger, denial or regret about our relationship. I was lucky enough to be taught to appreciate the things that you have now, today, because there will be a time when they no longer exist.
But I do have to admit to a certain level of sadness today, because in my scheme, I had always assumed that today, his 70th birthday, we'd celebrate the last "milestone" birthday of his life. I always thought he would live at least this long. I know Dad had no desire to be "old" and that he would never stick around long enough to feel the severe effects of aging, and in my realistic world I thought that meant he'd live until about 73 or so.
Now when talking about my father and birthdays, I realize that it is silly to mourn this missed opportunity of celebrating one of his; he was not one for celebrating his birthday. I have had root canals that were more pleasurable than trying to get him to give me a gift idea or two. And age is just a number. Someone who claims to be as realistic as me should know that. So why do I feel like I am missing something more today that the other days? I think it is because I have found that the second passing of specific events since his death have been harder than the first. Every first holiday without him was a learning experience, a way of trying to understand what it feels like to go on without him physically here.
Every second holiday has just been a reminder of what that first one was like. In my opinion, this past Christmas was harder than Christmas 2002. But now that I am aware of what it feels like to repeat the experience, I expect all of them to be easier from now on.
I can't say that I have learned anything about Dad since he died, and that statement makes me happy. I feel that I knew him as best as I could while he was alive. Again, no regrets. I feel fortunate to realize that. I have learned things about my friends, my relatives, my siblings and their families. But by far, I have learned more about my mother than everyone else combined. Throughout my life, I would describe my mother as the kindest, most thougthful and caring person I know, but now I would also have to say that she is by far the strongest person I know. She always had to be this way, I just never realized it. No one could possibly just acquire the strength that she has shown us in the last twenty months. I can't speak for others, though I am sure that they agree, but I know I would not have been able to deal with everything as well as I think I have without her. She has the most class and greatness of anyone I know.
So we move on, because that is what you do with your life. I think about my father every day, and I am amazed at the memories that continue to come to me that I had long forgotten about. Recently I came across a bunch of cassette tapes that he made of Irish music that was broadcast on the radio every Saturday morning when we were kids. He would play these tapes over and over again. I never cared much for the music as a child, but as I grew older I learned to appreciate it. I took these tapes with me on my last two week drive down south. It was a pleasure to be able to hear them again, a gift really.
I have found that we seem to be fortunate enough to continue to receive gifts from people even after they have died. That is the true legacy of my father and his life. I can be sad from time to time about missing his physical presence, but the happiness that I get just from the knowledge of the time I had with him far outweighs it.