I look in the mirror and there he is, my father. He follows me wherever I go, his eyes gazing back at mine in every reflection I see. I feel him with me when I see The Godfather playing on TV, or when I hear Leon Russell singing A Song For You. Or, heaven help me, when I watch Bill O’Reilly – which is pretty much never, now that my father is gone. Though he died 8 years ago today, he’s still with me at unexpected moments, or sometimes in a dream.
I hear his voice coming from me when I’m angry, my temper flaring as his did – fast and fierce and then done, chastising myself for what I can’t always control – though I’m better at it than he was. His temper was like a living entity when I was a child, just waiting to be awakened. Where did it come from, that fury? That’s something I’d ask him if I could bring him back.
And then, in a flash, they would be over, his tantrums. Mine are like that too. A blaze and then just embers.
I clean my house and he’s by my side, straightening and spraying and wiping – both of us incapable of sitting amidst clutter or mess, even for a few minutes. Up he would jump when he finished eating, rushing to do the dishes, whether at his house or someone else’s. Quickly I grab the piles of newspapers and magazines, placing them in baskets, as though they were never read at all.
I am quick to grow impatient. I’m no good at waiting, being delayed, getting put on hold, standing in line. My father was never late for anything, and neither am I. Impatience was coded in his DNA, as much as his blue eyes, his dislike of coconut, his passion for chocolate. I’m the same.
He liked to laugh, loved a good joke or a funny TV show. He had a great laugh, my father. It was like his voice, deep and booming. I laugh loudly and often, trying to find humor where I can – but like him I also laugh at the absurdity of things with the eye of a cynic.
My father’s loyalty to his children was unshakable. Though there were times when he was absent when I was growing up – whether because of work, or his personal issues, or his frequent need for distance from the world (oh how I’m like him that way!), when I was grown, he would show up when the chips were down.
When my baby boy was in the hospital for 6 days, my father was there, rotating shifts with my husband and me so we could get some sleep and a shower.
When I had moments of despair, fear, doubt- depression overwhelming me- my father would sit and talk with me, giving me one of his trademark pep talks. I try to be that kind of parent, too. I think I am.
At the center of him was a basic and genuine kindness and likability that drew others to him all his life. I hope I’m like him in that way.
June 16 of this year would have been my father’s 75th birthday. He would have wanted barbecued steaks and a chocolate cake, a day with his kids, sitting outside next to the pool, sunning himself while we reprimanded him for not wearing sunscreen on his bald head – “Don’t worry about it!” he would have said, laughing.
He thought he was invincible.