On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking of my dad who died over 30 years ago at age 75. He had a heart attack, sitting in his chair, 5:30 in the afternoon, watching 3s Company reruns on tv and probably sipping a Manhattan while my mother made supper.
Dad’s eyesight was failing–glaucoma that he’d had since he was 40. He had a heart condition–the heart attack was a surprise but in some way also expected. He’d had a pacemaker for a few years and problems regulating his heart medication. He was slowing down, physically and mentally, and having a hard time accepting this. We all knew that we’d soon have to have that difficult conversation about driving.
He had a group of men friends—the Old Goat’s Club they called themselves. My dad, the ex banker; Hubert, who used to own the drugstore in town; Dick, who was also a banker; and Jack, an insurance agent. They met each Tuesday morning at a coffee shop off the town square. I wonder what they talked about as they navigated retirement and old age.
Dad was an avid photographer—I still have carousels filled with his slides documenting trips and family events, including many silly pictures of me, little ham that I was. My sister and I say we’re going to sort through them, get the ones we want to keep onto the computer and toss the rest but we haven’t done it yet. I kept his camera—and used it for many years until it needed a new part and turned out to be too old to fix.
I also kept his yellow cardigan sweater, one of his favorites. I can still feel its texture under my fingertips and on the inside of my arms where I’d press against him in a hug–he was good with hugs.
I wish I’d known my dad better. That sounds like an odd thing to say about a man I saw every day for more than 18 years but he was a very private man, who was, I think, easily hurt. I remember one blow-out fight we had when I was in my 20s. I don’t remember what the topic was–I just remember yelling at each other–a rarity in our family–and I remember thinking that beneath his anger, dad was deeply hurt that I thought so differently about something.
We were up in Maine, in a cottage that my parents owned for a few years right after dad retired. I was living in the Boston area and came up a lot on the weekends in the summer. I suspect we were arguing about decisions I was making about work. Dad wanted me to find a respectable career like his, banking, but I wasn’t interested in something so conventional.
We yelled. I probably cried. Mom intervened and it was over. At times I wish we’d kept going–gotten to something deep and honest that needed saying–but I also wonder if one of us–probably me–would have said something irretrievable.
That one fight aside, the times I spent with dad in Maine are some of my best memories of adult time with him. The cottage was on a lake. He had a rowboat with an outboard motor and we’d go fishing for long hours, puttering down the lake to find a good spot and then casting our lines and waiting companionably for something to bite, which it rarely did. Here’s a poem I wrote about that time:
Fishing with My Father
Our boat drifts through light and shade.
We sit angled, bow and stern, poles poised
for elusive fish, no sound but the slap
of water on the boat’s hull, the whipping hiss
of a cast line. We are caught there,
drifting the length of the lake.
We pretend knowledge of underwater geography,
the habits of fish; disturb the places hidden by rocks,
push our way through lily pads and weeds,
seek the warm currents.