My father passed away in 1995, a few weeks after my birthday, and a few weeks before his 67th. He was a gambling addict, a child of the Great Depression, a churchgoer and a divorcé. I have been made well aware of this one man’s faults from many people he wronged, even though I didn’t commit his crimes and even though I am likely to internalize his shame. After 15 years of reflection on the father I knew and lost, I think I see him for who he was—a person with faults who wanted to do right and often fell short, a man who felt a terrible push-pull of obligation and scratching for freedom, and who most sadly, died full of regret. I fight to push past his mistakes and my own because I don’t want my life to end with any similarity.
On occasion I dream about him. Whatever time has done to smudge the edges of his face and blur his features, I look at him with absolute clarity in my mind’s eye. He is almost always in his mid-50s, before diabetes made him half blind and weaker than anyone wants to see a person become. To this day I have never met anyone with hands bigger than he had; his rings as big as bracelets, so heavy I can only imagine how hard to lift they would have been if they’d somehow popped onto the ends of my own arms.
In my dreams we often just sit and converse. I rail against the Red Sox, or tell him what a mess the Jersey Turnpike is, though the Turnpike has been a disaster since it was laid down. At times he’ll sing to me like he did when we were face to face in my waking life; old songs from Hoagie Carmichael or a version of Minnie the Moocher, maybe something from Bobby Vinton. But mostly we sit and talk, and when I wake I feel at peace about it. There are so many people whose memories of him leave a bitter taste for them that I often feel that I don’t have anyone to grieve with over him, and that is a sad state of affairs that I would not wish on another.
Last night when I was sleeping I asked him if he was okay. It had been a while since our last talk with each other, but apparently my subconscious has been stewing for a while.
He looked at me with his wide, dark brown eyes that remind me of my own, and he gave me a smile, and I heard his voice.
“I’m doing fine, kiddo,” he said. I believed him. And I swept aside one tear from each eye when I woke.