My dad would’ve been 81 today and all morning I was thinking that I’d write something light-hearted. Maybe it’d even be funny in places. He would’ve appreciated that. But I mulled too long and recognized anew that I didn’t know him.
I can tell you that he was handsome.
I can tell you that he liked palm hearts with salsa rosada and that I’ve never known anyone who ate as slowly as he.
I can tell you he did this thing with his mouth. With his lips together, he’d thrust them forward, usually when he was deep in thought.
I never saw him demonstrably angry.
He expected people to take care of themselves.
I can tell you that he was in Korea, that he was in charge of doling out the soldier’s pay. It is likely that when asked if he would slip in a little extra cash, he had a whole litany of clever come backs. He was the guy that was reserved, no great talker, but when he did speak up, he was funny.
I’ve been told he named Post road in St. Paul. I wonder what the joke was.
I can tell you that he preferred pencils to pens and that he kept them sharp with erasers intact. His handwriting was on the small side and leaned sharply to the right. His politics were that way too.
He enjoyed carpentry and had a lathe. I liked to watch him shape out rounded spindles from straight flat wood. I liked the way a long squared piece of wood became cylindrical just by the spinning. Turn off the machine and,although the wood was shaved and chipped in places, it was still square. What was its true shape? What was my dad’s true shape?
I can tell you he didn’t like to come home or, rather, he liked to go drinking. When I was growing up, before I knew about hangovers, I thought of him as a man who was a little terse, who never wanted to be disturbed.
I can tell you he died of ALS. When he still could bear weight, I remember helping him up the steps into his house.
“Lift your right foot,” I said, because I was going to nudge it forward to the next step.To be funny, he lifted his left. “You rebel,” I said.
And he smiled.
And I smiled.
And that is how relationships reshape themselves.