This Sunday will be my 4th Father’s Day without a father to call. I couldn’t remember what we did on my dad’s last Father’s Day so I went back through old emails. And I still can’t remember entirely. I think that might have been the weekend my dad and I went out in his kayak, but I can’t be certain. I think there might have been a barbecue, but again, I can’t be certain.
I remember in the year or maybe even two years after he died being terrified of the memories fading. Knowing that surely they would. And they have.
I can look back at photographs and remember, but the memories are just not as crisp as they once were. The details have begun to fade, as has the pain and the darkness. But there are other ways I can bring him right back, too, in an instant.
In my hunt to figure out what we did on his last Father’s Day I ended up finding his own words- written with little to no punctuation and inappropriate spacing revealing that he was maybe typing on his phone or writing quickly from his desk at work. The way you do when you write to your family.
That’s what he wrote on June 18th, 2012, the day after Father’s Day and just a few months before he died.
But as the memories and images fade, I find myself remembering in a different, less intentional way: I remember through my body. The other day as we were putting up shelving I found myself balancing a carpenter’s pencil from Home Depot in my teeth as I examined the instruction manual. It was something I’d seen my dad do countless times. A muscle memory long forgotten and rarely used. But my body must have remembered because instinctively I put that pencil in my mouth. Not in my pony tail. Not behind my ear. Not down on the counter.
Then, the other day I was in the kitchen cooking and as I moved from the stove to the sink I threw a dish towel over my shoulder. For 5 seconds my own body mirrored the body of my father- five, ten, fifteen years ago? Who knows when or how many times that memory was stored somewhere deep inside of me. As I did this, I could feel my dad’s movements within my own body. I could picture his forearm making this exact sweeping movement in one of the several kitchens he occupied in my lifetime. A habitual multi-tasking motion. One that is not planned nor thought through. It is just learned in our bodies thanks to mirror neurons and watchful childhood eyes.
My dad also had this funny little thing he did with his hands on the dashboard when he was stopped at a red light. He would spread open the fingers on his right hand on top of the dash above the steering wheel and tap his thumb and pinky finger back and forth rhythmically. I do this, too, now, though it is not instinctual. It’s a conscious movement to emulate my father. To bring this body into my own body. To make his rough, calloused hands come alive again through my own polished, petite fingers.
As a woman that proudly and easily connects to all things feminine, I know so much of my movement, my voice, probably the way I dress and certainly my dance moves, are handed down from my mother. I can effortlessly find her within me all of the time, especially as I journey through motherhood. But to also find my father there- this is a surprise and a gift.
To my friends (and you are many) who are gearing up for Father’s Day without their fathers, I hope that you will find them within you, too. And I hope you’ll tell me about it.