OK, so I’ve written a lot about my dad on this blog, quite a ways back now, I guess, but if you don’t want to scroll through all the old posts, here it is in a nutshell: My dad and I loved each other very much, but we had a sort of messy and complicated relationship, and I’ve had a lot of messy and complicated feelings about him since his death. I think that pretty much sums it up.
So. It may or may not surprise you that this past Father’s Day was a hard one for me. It snuck up on me, though, you know? (Is snuck not a word?) With my mom’s dates and anniversaries, I always see them coming and kind of dread them. With Dad – his birthday, Father’s Day – I just sort of go about my business, maybe, for example, focusing on gifts and cards for Brian. And then blam-o! (OK, definitely not a word. Whatever.) It hits me. Like sniper fire. As Brian later observed, it was much like his death, itself, the one I didn’t believe was coming so soon. And really, very similar to the nature of our relationship when he was alive. We never dealt with conflict directly. It was always oblique, and always caught me off guard.
So I guess I was continuing a tradition of sorts. All of a sudden, in the middle of the afternoon last Sunday, I complained to Brian about stopping in Danville to visit his grandmother and great-aunt on the way to my dad’s funeral. On the way to my dad’s funeral. On the way. To my dad’s. Funeral. Why or how I agreed to this at the time, I have no idea. Why or how I decided that NOW was a good time to bring it up, again. No idea. I got nothin’.
Brian had insisted on our visiting Danville, and for some reason, I said OK to it. Even though we were – have I mentioned? – on the way to my dad’s funeral. A funeral I had had to plan and organize and pay for. A funeral I was already dreading. And of course, as Murphy would have it, it was cold and pouring rain in Danville when we arrived. And we stayed overnight in a shitty hotel room with Jack, who was seven months old at the time. Were we on crack? Then at the funeral itself, my mother-in-law thanked me for going to Danville. “It wasn’t for them, really,” she said. “It was for me.”
Excuse me? I thought it was for Brian, and he had wanted his family to meet Jack. But you know, timing is everything. I still can’t get my head around it. I didn’t say something cold like, “I’m not doing you any favors today. It’s my father’s funeral.” Mainly because I never think of anything cool to say in the moment. But it probably wouldn’t have made things better for me, anyway.
OK, so anyway, this happened almost three years ago. Why did I lay it out to Brian like that on the day I was trying to make his life with our three-year-old a little easier? That’s when it hit me. It was Father’s Day. Duh. OK, yes, Brian is a father. But could I think of any other fathers I might be thinking about? Oy. Sometimes it takes me a while. Once I realized that I was bitching at Brian because I missed my dad and had some old grievances about the way I grieved him, and that it was coming up because it’s Father’s Day and I no longer have anyone to call on that day, I settled down. Well, first, I cried a lot. A lot. Then I settled down.
Now, please understand. When it comes to my dad, crying is a very good thing. It means I’ve gotten through the anger and resentment and guilt and layers of crap that have covered up my actual loss, my actual sadness that he’s gone. For me to cry like this, which I’d been able to do so easily (and pretty much constantly) after my mother’s death, is a very real sign of progress. And once it got out of my system, I apologized to Brian for the way I’d ranted at him.
Then I stood at the kitchen sink, getting dinner ready, and I saw out in the garden a female cardinal. We have a mated pair who live somewhere in our yard, and the female was taking a bath in the sprinkler I’d turned on the garden. She was perched on the top of one of the tomato cages, fluffing her feathers and seemingly enjoying herself immensely. About thirty seconds after I spotted her, Brian called to me, seeing her, too.
“Mommy” cardinals have long been a messenger animal for me relating to my mom, like a reminder that she’s still somewhere nearby, keeping an eye on me. “I see her,” I said, and then the male cardinal hopped down from the deck into the dirt of the garden. He poked around a little, and then he flew up and perched next to the female on the wire tomato cage. Then it looked like they were kissing, or maybe he was feeding her with seeds or bugs from the soil. But they definitely mashed their beaks together a couple of times. It was like seeing my parents reunited.
Which, if you believe in those things, they are.