The day before, a student emailed me. She wanted to interview me about a poem I'd published. The poem talks about the death last summer of my father and my student, Chris.
She asked me: tell me about your father.
And it's haunted me all the things I wish I could have said about him.
Chris--that was easier. I didn't know him very well, since I knew him mostly in class, as a student. I knew he had a special connection to Tennyson's poem, "In Memoriam," which I'd had the honor of teaching to him. I knew he had a sharp intellect and a welcoming, sunny personality. I'd not known the name of his boyfriend, his mother, his favorite color. I'd known the essence of him, maybe, but not its many petals.
My father: there were so many of him to say. The dad I grew up with, who taught me how to shave and how to tell the truth. The dad who put others first.
And there was the man I didn't know, the person he was before he became my father. The barefaced twenty-something who coached an all African American basketball team who escorted him nightly from the gym, against his protests, because he'd received threats. The guy who owned a green Porsche. The person who fell in love with a woman named Dora, for whom he converted to the Mormon faith. The bad Mormon who drank whiskey and smoked pot.
The guy who took my mother dancing. Who flew her from Indiana to Daytona Beach for their first date.
Then there was the illness that occupied his body for the last ten years of his life. There was the meanness. The racist epithets. The cursing. The fists balled up and swung at anyone who tried to shave him.
Which of these should I remember, which of these should I erase?
For which of these should I offer the most thanks? Without one of them, I'd be missing some part of me today.
I mourned my dad in parts, though there are days when I grieve him, like today, whole.