Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dear Dad (2018)

Has it really been almost three years since you died?  That's a long time to have gone without your hugs and kind words.  Do I still have your voice right in my head?  And your laugh?  I'm starting to wonder.  Until almost three years ago I got to refresh those details periodically.  Now whatever memories I cling to are all I will ever have.  I hate that, and it doesn't get easier.  I don't reach for the phone to call you on Mondays anymore, so at least I can say the reality has sunk in.  I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad one.

Oh, Dad.  What would I tell you about what life has been like since last Father's Day?  I guess that in recent months it's been better than the year before.  Last year was a nightmare and I'm still suffering occasional flashbacks of pain, but when I think back to where we were, and look at where we are, there is no comparison.  There are still issues to deal with and I'm scared every day that things could fall backwards into crisis again, but for now I will be grateful that on a day-to-day basis life in our home is normal again.  That's no small thing.  Normal is a gift.

I think the strangest thing for me lately is that I feel old in a way I never have before.  Quinn in particular points out things I say that place me squarely in the past century--like "xerox" and "by accident."  (Did you know that people born after 1995 say "on accident" instead of "by?"  I'm sure you'd have sent me an article about it by now if you were around.)

It never really bothered me before because Quinn asking questions about the world and having me explain things is the norm for a child learning about everything, but more and more it's not about acquiring new knowledge but about explaining my anachronisms.  It's getting stranger and stranger to have to say, "Well, remember, when I was growing up we didn't have the internet.  Nobody had a computer.  We didn't get a VCR until I was a senior in high school, so if you missed a TV show when it was on you missed it, and any movies that weren't at least ten years old you had to see in a theater.  No, we never lost the phone because it was physically connect to the wall with a curly wire.  We had to go into the gas station to pay.  You never met openly gay children because no one came out until they were living on their own as adults.  We didn't do math like that but got the same answers."

And all the ages and roles have shifted.  It hit me the other day that Ian and I are older than his mom was when I first met her.  I'm older than the current first lady.  The handsome leading men in many movies are young enough to be my kids which is weird.  People my age either look pretty good or really awful and I wonder where I fit in there.  Did you notice things like that early since you were an older dad?  You were distinctly different from other dads in many ways, so I don't know if you felt the age thing in particular or not.  I never thought to ask before.

Most days I don't care about age at all.  I just want to do what I do and I'm not going to base any of it on a number attached to me by how long I've been here.  But it is shocking to recognize how much time can slip by in a blink.  I'm finally getting around to a serious edit of my second novel--which you did a grammar check on for me over ten years ago.  I never would have imagined I would let a project sit dormant for a decade, but it just happened.  Every day is so full that something that optional is easy to put off for "one more day" but those days add up.  Were there projects like that for you?  Besides the filing.  The filing was never going to get completed.  But were there drafts of things lying around or in your head that we didn't know about?

I am finally getting around to making those instruments for my kids.  One of the things I always figured I'd do before I died was make a violin for each one of them, and I feel like I need to get those out of the way soon because that's another one of those projects that's easy to put off day after day and then it could be too late.  So I made a violin for Aden where she picked out the wood and the model and helped with little bits of construction here and there.  She'll be able to play on it for her next recital!  Mona insists she doesn't want me to build her one, but I told her too bad.  I'm making it anyway, and maybe she'll have a kid one day who wants to play it or she can hang it on a wall or even sell it, but there is no way that I'm going to build a violin for two of my kids and not the third.  Can you imagine what kind of "middle child" story that would be passed down as for generations?  I'll play it if she doesn't want to, but it will exist.  I'm going to start that one next (in tandem with another instrument for sale), and then an instrument for Quinn, so that way they will have each gotten their violin at some point in high school.

Dad, I wish so much you could see my kids.  Quinn's hair just gets longer and longer!  I feel like next time I go home I should find your "hair" binder with all the articles from the late sixties and beyond about men and long hair.  Was that the first binder?  It's the first one I remember your putting together from a file.  I laughed when I saw it because it seemed so odd, but you told me when I was a baby you wanted to capture this bizarre bit of history where people cared so much about the length of a man's hair because you hoped by the time I was old enough to read it things would have changed.  I'm glad things have changed enough that Quinn looks different, but nobody gives him grief about it.  I can't imagine him being denied a job over it.

Anyway, Quinn is so smart and sweet.  He is always willing to help me when I volunteer at the soup kitchen or to sort through instruments at schools.  He likes puzzles, he likes maps, he likes making lists.  Lately we've been playing a couple of rounds of cribbage most nights before bed.  We have long passed the days where I felt I had to give him a chance to win, and now I have to put out full effort when we do Boggle or Scrabble anything else in the game cabinet.  You'd have been so much more useful than I was helping him study for the state geography bee.  We're still taking Latin (although third declension reduced him to tears at one point, but he's over that hump and we're into participles and gerunds and being confused by the ablatives of time and of means).  Quinn did well on his recent violin recital.  His grades are good, and kids at school like him.  He has a friend in the neighborhood who comes over to bounce on the trampoline with him from time to time.  We just got him a new bike because he outgrew the old one.  He hates fancy clothes (we went with a clip on tie for the Model UN because he didn't have any interest in learning to tie a real one), and he always looks rumpled but I don't care.  He looks huggable.  He's going to be in sixth grade next year!  It's so odd with birth order, because sixth grade seemed terribly old when Aden reached it, but seems so young with Quinn.

Mona is going into high school!  She has the shortest summer ever because elementary and middle schools currently get out late (mid June) and high schools are on a different calendar that starts early (mid August.)  So she just got out of school, but has orientation the second of August, so she doesn't get a lot of vacation.  We're going to try to make the most of it with a big trip out west in July at some point.  She signed up for French in the fall!  Oh what I wouldn't give to have you help her with French.  And art.  She loved the way you drew.  She does most of her artwork on the computer anymore, but she lets me print out hard copies, which is good because I don't trust that her pieces won't just disappear otherwise.  Mona's really good, dad.  I mean, I know you knew that, but she just keeps getting better.  I told her you thought she should be at the Pratt Institute and she kind of holds that in the back of her mind as a place to shoot for.  She seems to be looking at high school as something to get through and she's aiming at art school beyond that.  I hope the art teachers at Bay View are able to challenge her.  She didn't want to go to the High School of the Arts for some reason, so I hope the next few years are okay.  I'm worried.  But then I'm always worried anymore.  Of all my kids Mona is the most like me, poor girl.  In a lot of ways that's painful to see, but I hold onto the idea that it probably also means she'll be okay in the long run.  She has such a good heart.  The world is a harsh place when you feel so much.

Aden is so lovely.  She's taller than I am now--just shy of six feet, so people like to tell her she's tall as if she doesn't know.  When she's excited about something she's telling you she just lights up and you want to listen to all of it, even if it doesn't make sense because it's about some obscure animation topic.  She's got some wonderful ideas in her sketchbooks, and she's been experimenting with different materials since school let out in May.  She's going to be a junior this year and is already getting a million cards in the mail from colleges we've never heard of.  We'll be doing our first campus visit in California when we go on our vacation next month.  She's interested in CalArts, which we can't afford, but she says even just to tour a place where so many animators she admires went will be fun, so we're going.  I have no idea how we will manage to pay for college for her, let alone two more kids, but I guess we will figure it out.  Remember our trip to Oberlin?  I loved that visit, and am still glad you decided the dorm I was supposed to stay in with a guide was as unappealing as I did and I got to stay with you at the hotel.  (It was the "Oberlin Inn" and you lamented that they missed the opportunity to call it the "Oberlinn.")

Aden is lazy lazy lazy when it comes to things that don't interest her, which I get, but is still frustrating.  When she had her check in with the allergist recently one of the questions on the form was, "What is the composition of the floor surface of her bedroom?" and I almost put "Laundry."  I can see the effects of her frontal lobe not being fully wired yet, because she feels genuine remorse and guilt at not doing the things we ask of her or keeping up with certain assignments, but it's not enough to motivate her to action.  She'll get there.  In the meantime, in all the areas that really count I couldn't ask for better.  She is kind and sweet and can talk easily with anyone of any age.  I remember when she got to volunteer at the senior center after school back in eighth grade she told me she signed up because she was excited to hear older people's stories.  Just this week at the pool she included a little boy in her games.  She makes everything interesting, and when she was off in NYC for a week on a field trip the whole dynamic of the house changed.  Everyone went to bed early because it felt like there was nothing more to do.

Ian's doing okay.  He doesn't have much longer until he hits his 20 years with the Army and then we will have to scramble to figure out health care for several years until his retirement kicks in, but I think he will enjoy the break.  He's very good at what he does, but the military can be frustrating.  We may have reached a point where it makes him more unhappy than fulfilled, so I won't be sorry to see that chapter end.  But with things in politics as uncertain as they are anymore it may not matter what he wants.  He can always be pulled out of retirement if they need him whether he likes it or not.

Ugh, politics.  I can't imagine how anxious you would be watching the news right now.  The level of disgust and disbelief you would be experiencing is so disheartening I'm glad you are spared it.  It is the only thing about your death I can live with easily, that you were spared so much gut-wrenching nonsense.  I imagine you would have felt the need to clip with even more fervor, to try and document each new disturbing turn of a wretched story, and then you would have been immersed in it more than would be healthy.

But you would be proud of your sons and your son and daughters-in-law, and your wife who continues to do amazing work.  She's made some great meals that we're sorry you missed.  I don't even know how to begin to describe how much you've missed with all your grandchildren.  Ellora got into her dream school, Rivyn counts in so many languages I've lost track, Aden, Mona, and Quinn are still as close as you could hope siblings could be.  The dog is still a jerk, but he's getting to be an older jerk so we're hoping as his hearing goes he'll be less nervous about everything.  (They love him, though, at his new kennel where we board him when we are on trips.  He gets little report cards with stickers saying he was adorable and likes snuggles, so we don't know what to make of that.)  

I guess that's all I really want to report this Father's Day.  I miss you.  I love you.  I wish I still had a dad.

Love,  Kory


  1. Such a sweet post and lovely update on everyone in the family. Hoping this year continues to be better than the last.

  2. I read your post aloud to Ellora while we sat in the garden. I couldn't make it through the last couple of sentences. We talked about dad, memories, anachronisms, and the family, which was a wonderful way to spend part of Father's Day. Thank you, Kory! The only way to follow that up was to pick up mangoes and strawberries to chop up and smother in whipped cream!

  3. I love this post. I can envision your Dad sitting in his house at his desk reading it. Of course it's a hand written letter as opposed to electronic. I can still hear his voice. I think of him a lot. I (unlike Arno) was not reading this out loud, but Sir Harvey Puffy Pants came and cuddled up to me at the end regardless.

  4. I always appreciate that you take the time to compose your thoughts into words that I can read, think about, and reflect on. I dreamt about dad again a couple of days ago. He was younger (~60), vibrant, and I struggled to take a portrait of him, realizing that the opportunity to do so was fleeting.