In this chaotic time of battling racism, illegal and immoral government actions, and the coronavirus pandemic, we hope to defeat them once and for all with as few lives harmed or lost as possible. And yet within the daily of strife of these, I feel my lost loved ones still with me somehow. The memory of their love helps get me through the darker days. This short piece below is about my dad, lost to me on this side of breath nearly three decades ago.
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A Man of Few Words, But Good Ones
My father was a man of few words. He never started conversations. He left for work weekdays before I woke. But his absence made a deeper silence in the house than the quiet when he was at home. Back at 5:30 each workday night, he liked to change out of his coveralls uniform with lace-up boots, take a quick shower, and put on casual slacks in black or brown, with a plain tee shirt, his hairy toes wiggling out of the front of his beach-thong slippers.
Then he’d read the newspaper before supper, his cigarette sending untranslatable smoke signals up to the ceiling. Mother told my brother and me not to disturb him. He needed to unwind, but he never seemed like a ball of string to me.
At supper, we kids weren’t allowed to speak except to say pass the ketchup or are there more potatoes? But after our meal was finished, and after I swore I’d gotten all my homework done for the next day, my father was fair game.
Parked in his well-worn striped armchair, the black & white television tuned to a Knicks basketball game or a Cassius Clay boxing bout or to Bonanza, full of big hats and horses, my father sighed heavily and rooted for the good guys. C’mon, you can do it! It was then, without my mother or brother around, I asked him one the thousands of questions that floated around in my head day and night. The kind that drove my kindergarten and early grade teachers to tell me shut up and sit quietly—we’ve had enough out of you. But my father didn’t seem to mind.
“Daddy, why is the grass green?” I’d say.
“Because it sets such a nice backdrop for the yellow dandelions.” He mimed picking a flower and placing it behind his ear.
“Daddy, why do birds sing all the time?”
“Because they want to make Dean Martin jealous,” Daddy said, wiggling his eyebrows like Groucho Marx’s.
“Daddy, why do I have to eat peas? They taste like mush.”
“Peas are a secret weapon against sadness,” Daddy said, leaning over to where I sat at his feet to brush my forehead with his calloused hand. Rough as it was, nothing was ever so tender.
“Daddy, what is God?”
Daddy got up and clicked off the television knob. Back in the striped chair, he patted his thighs. I went to him and he pulled me up into his lap with ease, even though I was a chubby thing. I liked being so close to him I could count the hairs growing in each nostril, like dense, secret forests.
“God is the sky,” Daddy said, one arm hugging my back. “When you see the stars at night, that’s god. And in the daytime, the fluffy white clouds, those are god, too.”
“I thought God was like a person, only giant or something,” I said.
“The great thing about God is that each person can see God the way they want to. I look up at the sky and feel peaceful,” Daddy said.
“Even when it’s raining?”
“Even then. Rain makes everything grow. And quenches thirst.”
“Even when the clouds look like elephants or crazy clowns?” I said.
“Especially then,” Daddy said. “God is always up there for me. And for you, too. Like an upside-down ocean of goodness.”
“So why doesn’t god do anything when everything hurts so much?” I said.
“I know that’s hard to understand, Baby” Daddy said. “The universe is good, but some people in it aren’t always so good. You just have to keep believing in the good, that life can be good, even when things hurt.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, Daddy,” I said, hot tears dripping down my face.
He brushed my cheeks. “Well, until you can believe it for yourself, I’ll believe for you. When you look up at the sky, I’ll be a cloud, or fog, or the clearest blue, or the reddest star, radiating my love for you,” Daddy said. “Just remember to look up.”