I MISS MY DAD
Roy and his mom are sleeping over tonight. There are no story books suitable for a four-year-old here where I am house sitting. And so, Roy asks me to tell him a story from my childhood, since he is studying ‘history’ these days.
And so, I tell the story of me at eight, going to work on a Saturday morning with my dad. Amazingly, I can remember every detail of that day fifty years ago.
I remember him saying the night before:
“You might want to get to bed early tonight, son. Morning comes early.”
And in my excitement I’m in bed right after dinner. It’s still light out and I’m already in bed, closing my eyes real tight and trying real hard to go to sleep. I’m trying so hard that I make myself need to go pee. And so, I have to get up and go and then I’m back in bed, trying even harder.
By this time, everyone has gone to bed and I’m lying there awake in the dark. And I can hear my dad’s regular breathing in the next room and I listen really hard to it and the next thing I know, it’s morning.
Well, I don’t really know it’s morning but I can feel my dad pulling gently on my big toe, like this. And when I open my eyes and look up he is smiling down at me, with a finger to his lips as a sign for me to be quiet so I don’t wake up my sisters.
And so, I hop out of bed silently and jump quickly into my clothes. My dad, by this time, has turned and headed for the kitchen. I’m so excited that I beat him there. And here we are, just the two of us.
Here we are in the half-lit kitchen. Everything is real quiet and kind of magical. We have breakfast—toast with peanut butter and bananas. Just the two of us. And I watch my father prepare lunch for two men, he and I.
I remember going outside and climbing into the front basket of his balloon- tire bike (my father never drove a car) and riding down the street in the almost-dark of 6 AM.
And so, I sit in the massive metal basket as he pedals us silently down the street past the homes of my sleeping friends. Not even the milkman is stirring yet. I remember the sound of the gravel on the tires and the cool morning breeze on my face. And the smell of my dad.
I remember working all morning, pulling nails out of used lumber, and lunching on fried port chop sandwiches, my dad eating slowly to make sure I had enough and me mostly leaving him only the bread as I devoured the meat.
I remember a big, husky man ambling by me and winking at me. I remember another walking by and ruffling my hair. All morning men are walking by me and smiling in my direction and making comments to my dad like:
“Are you sure that’s your son, Camil? He’s a good looking fellow…”
And my dad chuckling as I get more and more puffed up with pride. I remember his boss walking by and saying, loud enough for me to hear:
“That’s a hard working lad you got there, Camil.”
And my dad just smiling quietly, like me.
And I remember riding home in the basket at the end of the day, slumped over my dad’s shoulder, half asleep from exhaustion, as he walked the bike home so as not waken me. I remember the sound of the wheels on the gravel, the smell of him against my face, the feel of his hard and soft chest against my back. I remember the feel of his muscles moving under my face and his powerful arm around me, cradling me like a baby.
And I remember him carrying me into the house gently in his massive arms and slipping off my shoes and carrying me into bed because I was too tired to stay up and eat dinner. I remember him slipping me under the blankets and covering me up, stroking my hair and smiling down at me as I closed my eyes. I remember that day, the day I needed no food to feel full.
I remember all of this today, telling the story, a little chokingly, to Roy and his mom, enjoying Roy’s laughter at the little boy who could eat six pork chops for lunch.
And Roy, noticing my tears, explains to me that sometimes, the mist that separates us from those who have gone on is very thin. And anytime you want, you can see those who have left and they can see you.
“Now is the time for you to wave to Camil,” he screeches excitedly, “And he may even wave back at you if you smile.”
And so, almost beside myself, I hold Roy in my arms and hug him, stroking his cheek and smiling at him, as my father would do to me.
I miss my dad.
I was walking in the park at dusk with my grandson one time. With Peter’s little hand inside of mine I felt a little like the luckiest man on the planet. At one point, Peter happened to look up and notice the moon on the horizon.
“Hey, look Joel, the moon!” he shrieked, as only four-year-olds can do.
“Sure is beautiful,” I commented, referring more to his presence than to that of the moon.
“Why is there only half of it in the sky?” he asked.
“Well, actually, the whole moon is there, but we can only see part of it because the sun is not lighting up the other half.”
He looked up at me quizzically and I could tell he hadn’t understood that explanation. But in true child-like fashion, he lost interest in his own question and got busy chasing a squirrel up a tree and hiding behind another tree for me to find him.
Later, as we were driving home, Peter again looked up in the sky and screeched,
“Joel! Look! There’s the other half of the moon!”
And that’s when I realized that we have more to learn from children than they from us.