Tomorrow is Father’s Day and I plan to take my father for a walk and lunch at one of his favorite places, a place his father took him, and that he took me, and my sisters, so many times.
The place is abundant with memories – those of the men who built a fort there in the 1600s, to the British loyalists who stayed there at the start of the American Revolution, even those of Edgar Allen Poe, who was stationed there during his military service. And mine. And my family’s.
My parents swam nearby as kids. “We had to walk through the mud and the muck to get to the water, but it was the only beach we knew,” my mother told us. Generations of us played in the playground. We’ve eaten so much fried food at the clam shacks there. We’ve watched hundreds of planes taking off and landing at the airport across the harbor. They fly so low you can see the logos, and the landing gear, even the windows on the plane sometimes. We’ve watched streams of boats go by – tugs, cargo boats, passenger ferries, and tall ships. And we’ve heard stories there, so many stories. The planes reminded my father to tell us about the flight school he attended, which then led to Army stories. We heard about his chums from the service like Quinn, chums from the neighborhood like Raggy, and more colorful fellows from the city like Shitty Pants and Whitey. My father told us how the cranes that unload the cargo containers work, and how the engines in the ships work, how the plane were built. We weren’t interested but that never stopped him.
And tomorrow he might tell me, and my kids, the same things. And we still won’t be interested – especially my kids. But he might not tell us. He might be having a difficult time hearing. He might be less present than he is on other days. That happens at 90 and with dementia. But it’s my ability to be present that I’m thinking about. Will I accept and appreciate my father as he is at 90? Or will I spend my time with him missing who and how he was at 60, 70, and even 80? Will I be thinking, like I have for probably the last 15 years, “This might be your last Father’s Day together. Enjoy it, damnit.” Or will I simply enjoy it, in the moment, as it is?
Which father will I spend the day with? The father who shows up in the lobby of the assisted living facility tomorrow – maybe with it and happy, maybe quieter and less engaged? Will I enjoy our time together, grateful for another year? Will I be impatient and frustrated at the limitations and challenges this version of my father presents? Will I spend the day with the living and breathing real deal, enjoying his company? Or will I spend the day physically next to a living man but mentally in my head with the ghosts and memories of Father’s Day past? Will I celebrate that I have this father or mourn the father that once was?
Ultimately, the choice is mine. My hope is I can accept and appreciate this father – however he presents himself tomorrow. And I will do my best to be present in the day. But if I were a gambling woman, I’d wager a bet it will be all of those versions of Dad that I spend tomorrow with.
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Photo credit: Robert Linsdell, used with Creative Commons license