restricted access Dear Dad
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I am struck by the fact that this may be the first time in my fifty-two years of life I have written “Dear Dad,” addressed only you in a letter, not both you and mom, father and mother, parents. “Dear Folks.” I have used that one a lot, not that I have written so many letters all these years. When you and mom had your fiftieth wedding anniversary, like any good writer/professor, I did some research: I stood at a greeting card display and read many examples of the form most often used on such occasions: expressions of best wishes written by professionals, people being paid for their words – and what words! public endearments , scraps of diary entries, treacly testimonials. My hands were sticky with sap from the experience. But some important themes emerged clearly: the cards for the early years, minor milestones, were always full of encouragement; those for twenty-five years of marriage were thick with celebration; but those for the fiftieth anniversary all glowed with amazement. Fifty years a couple! Who could believe it? I would have offered that fact as my chief excuse for never writing to you directly before. So: Dear Dad. There is something powerful in the singularity, since I now feel the weight of never having used it before. I have been looking for a photograph of you and me together, just us two, for the last year and haven’t turned one up. I expected there to be one at Dear Dad 42 43 least – just me, a kid in your arms. I noticed, the absence of a picture on my mind, that I have a number of photos of me with my son, Joe, your grandchild. The one I like the best is the snapshot of me holding him in the delivery room, the “birthing” room, some preternatural light beaming out of my eyes, taken by the doctor who delivered him. Finding no photograph of us alone was troubling, because many memoriesIrevisitareofustogether,alone.Mymindisfilledwiththose snapshots. Us late at night in a car, you at work delivering a critical part to an anxiously idled factory, me along for the ride, you bringing them salvation, a bearing that would allow everything, those massive buildings, those giant machines, to start up again, to throb and hum. And our talking alone, the infrequent brief conversations, their brevity and rarity making them indelible. They were often about work; times I let you down; the one time you hit me, so shocked at my impudence , complaining about the adequacy of a favor to me you had arranged . Even then I thought I deserved to be slapped. And the time, at sixteen, I flattened the side of the new car, which provoked no violence at all, but mainly silence and disappointment. All that alienation we felt those years I wrote off as part of the times. It was the fifties, you were one of the silent generation. I had grown my hair long before the Beatles (my models were the beat generation , not the Brits), and when you saw my high-school graduation picture, you ordered me to the barbershop, and I returned home thoroughlyshorn .(Hadyounotseenmeuntilthepictureappeared?)There weren’t that many orders actually, which is why I never questioned them. You were of your times, and I am certainly of mine. But all the clichés came home to roost when I had a son eight years ago, my only child; but everything was different, I told myself, except for that arc between you and me, between him and me. 44 But,unlikeyourself,whohadyourfirstchild,mysisterMarita,the first of eight kids, just when you turned twenty-one, I was forty four. Though I really began to notice the duplications. How, in so many moreprofoundways,myinteractionswithJoeremindmeofyourswith me, especially the dutiful and awkward manner I often assume. When we fall into silence in the car, me behind the wheel, Joe next to me looking out the window, I am reminded so piercingly of you, and me. Yet I remember when I was around ten and fell atop a small red metal step ladder, while jumping into a half-filled wading pool, and sliced open the back of my leg, leaving a torn, ragged horseshoe of tissue , large blood vessels exposed, but luckily not severed. The wound needed stitches, and later, when it was time to go to bed that night, you carried me up the stairs. You must have done that task before, but this was the only time...


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