Sunday, June 16, 2019

Dear Dad (2019)

Hi Dad.

I wish I could call you today. So much has happened, and I hate that you're missing it.

I think the highlight of this year for you would have been Mom's and Barrett's shows in Ann Arbor. The shows recently came down, and Mom will be driving through Milwaukee on her way to deliver Barrett's pieces back to him. All the work was so beautiful and perfectly displayed. There was a lovely tribute to you on the wall at the beginning of Barrett's space. He's in the process of finding a way to make your own art into a digital archive to share online. That will be amazing one day when it's all put together.

Mom's work continues to evolve in ever more lovely and surprising ways. You'd be so impressed by everything she's doing, and she tells me the garden is particularly lush and gorgeous this year.

You have amazing grandchildren. Rivyn is so smart and adorable and sweet. It breaks my heart he won't have firsthand memories of you. I haven't seen much of Ellora lately, but all reports sound like she's continuing to excel and she loves her school. My kids are doing okay overall, I hope. Parenting is hard, but they are such sweet kids I can't really complain.

Aden is going to be a senior this year, isn't that crazy? Especially when I think about having lunch with you on Brady Street so many years back and I was talking ahead about the idea of having kids and you teared up. And now the hypothetical child is almost a legal adult, although she's not too keen on the idea. We need to make sure she gets her driver's license this summer, but she does not like to drive. I think of you every time we get another college recruiting letter in the mail for her. So many little colleges everywhere vying for her attention, which means they haven't seen her grades. But Aden will be fine. We haven't figured out exactly what we're doing, but she's got interesting ideas in her sketchbooks and when she finally knows where to focus she will be amazing.

Aden is taller than I am now, and she's lovely. She speaks too softly, but she's kind and empathetic and good to her friends and siblings. You know what she did recently that blew me away? Ian was gone on a weekend I was supposed to go to a retirement dinner for a clarinet player in our orchestra, and I didn't really want to go to an event like that alone. My stand partner was going to sit with me, but then she wasn't feeling well and had to back out, so I just came home after the concert. I asked sort of jokingly if one of the kids wanted to accompany me and sit in their dad's place, and Aden piped up that she would go. She was in the middle of making dinner and she washed her hands and gave instructions to her brother and sister for finishing the meal themselves, changed into a nicer outfit, and happily went with me out to the fancy country club. She was charming company, and didn't mind for a minute that she was sitting at a table full of adults she didn't know and was fine with answering questions about school and her interest in animation. We chatted and laughed the whole drive home in the rain. She could not have been more perfect. What teenager volunteers for something like that? An evening with mom at a retirement dinner? I was in awe. She may drive me nuts sometimes, but in all the ways that matter, that girl is remarkable. And she has your eyes.

Mona's doing well. She's had a rough go for the past couple of years, and things still aren't easy, but compared to where we were before, it's like night and day. She chose Bay View High School and did very well in ninth grade. I think she was brave to select a school where she didn't know anyone. She likes French, which makes me think of you. All her teachers are excellent, but the student environment can be a bit rough. She doesn't regret her choice, though, and she's made some new friends. We got her a cell phone this spring so she could text people over the summer and keep connected. Dad, her artwork is so good. She's actively working on a portfolio for art school, and she is encouraged by the words you shared with me that she should be in the best places and learning great things. Because she knows you believed in her, she's convinced she can do it.

She has a pet bird! It's so chatty and cute and you'd love her. I told Mona all about the birds you had at one time. Mona's bird used to let the rest of us pet her, but now she's completely bonded only to Mona, which is kind of what I was hoping for. The only downside is I'm now terrified of anything bad befalling the bird because Mona loves it so much.

Quinn is getting so tall, and his hair continues to grow, although even he admits I should probably trim it at this point because it's getting frizzy from split ends. He told me his class got to look back on the three years they've been in Ms Tilly's room, and he marveled that the photos of him in fourth grade showed his hair just above his shoulders. (Which at the time seemed pretty long, but not now.) He kind of skated through sixth grade. Montessori should have provided him with the opportunity to pursue more of the challenging work he's capable of, but the downside of letting kids choose their work is sometimes they choose not to really do any. Quinn will be fine, so I don't worry about it. He admitted to me that he just kind of wanted to take it easy for a bit because in the adolescent program he starts in the fall he will have to buckle down and learn new math, etc. We're still taking Latin, which is getting really hard. I know Quinn has to push himself in piano and violin as well, so it's not like I don't think he's learning new things.

I just wish we had some clue what his passion might be someday. It's not like I feel he has to know what he wants to do this early, but I want to help him with it while I can. The only goal that he seems likely to aim for is owning three cats one day, despite his allergies.

In the meantime we play games together a lot, and I can teach him all kinds of random things that way. We've been enjoying a board game called Concept, which is kind of like charades in a way, but with pictures on a board you select in combination to get your point across. We've had to stop within games so I can explain things he's never heard of. So far he's learned about Joan of Arc, MacGeyver, Judas, Free Willy, the Lascaux caves, Tina Turner, and St Peter, among other things. It's a fun game.

(Although Mona's mind works a lot like yours, and I would have paid money to watch the two of you play Concept together. She was tying to convey Calvin and Hobbes the other day, and she kept giving clues about things made of metal. It was impossible, and Quinn and I had to give up. However, I did point out to her that one of my guesses was "a philosopher" which should have gotten me closer to the answer, but she didn't know Calvin and Hobbes were also philosophers. She didn't even remember Hobbes in the comics was a stuffed tiger. I have no idea what she was doing. Which remains the fun and challenge of raising Mona. Quinn and I think more alike, so I was able to get him to say "MacGyver" even though he'd never heard the name before. I can only imagine what direction you would take this game.)

Ian's doing well. He just got back from two weeks of some kind of strategic war game on the west coast. He finally got his 20-year letter, which means he can file for retirement soon. That will be a struggle for us in terms of health insurance when he leaves the Army, and the extra bit of income will be missed, but I kind of want Ian home at this point. All those weekends away and conference calls and the stress of working within that system.... I feel he's earned the right to use his time in other ways by now.

We bought the violin store building. That's been a lot of work and expense, but I believe it will pay off in the long run. The Airbnb we opened in the apartment above the store this spring is booked every weekend through summer, so that's going well. I kind of want the girls to paint a mural on the wall facing Rusk. I asked the landlord once about painting that surface and he objected, but now I'm the landlord.

Dad, I wish you could see my latest books! I finally finished Seducing Cat, and it's much better than the draft you read so long ago. I finished Just Friends, Just War, too, and Mom's got cover ideas. That book is also much improved from the draft you went through, and I could have used you for the few lines in French now in it. I feel like I finally have a handle on how to approach writing a novel from the start. I finished a draft this month of a new novel that is so much better than how my first drafts used to go. It may be the best thing I've written. (Or maybe it's terrible. Impossible to know. Creative projects are frustrating like that.) I wish so badly you could read it and tell me what you think. I could use your proofreading eye, although Barrett's pretty good in your place.

I think of you every day. There is a movie coming out called Yesterday, about a man who wakes up and is the only person alive who remembers the Beatles, and he gets to introduce the world to all their songs and become a star. I think that would have been fun to see with you on opening day with my kids. They like the Beatles. They are not in love with most of the music of their own generation, saying it lacks melody and thoughtful lyrics. Reminds me a bit of how you had to wait for music that interested you to come around, too.

I miss you, Dad. Happy Father's Day, Yesterday, today, and always.

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