Because the dead don’t leave forwarding addresses, Dad, I’m not sure where to send this, but I’m writing anyway in celebration of Father’s Day. I’m once again proving your point: I’m relentless if I’m determined to make it happen.
So you died a few years ago. So what? That doesn’t mean we no longer have a relationship. Life and death aren’t all that easy.
I continue to talk to you in my head, although perhaps less regularly than I did when you first passed away. A dozen years ago, I saw you and heard you on every block in New York City.
Every Italian or Jewish man over age 80 with a slight build, grey hair and dark eyebrows who wasn’t wearing a baseball cap — you never wore a hat in your life — looked like you.
I used to smile warmly at them, but these days, if I smile at men that age, they look at me in a way that makes me think they imagine I’m going to ask them, flirtatiously, if they want to come over to my place so I can make them some nice brisket.
So while I no longer catch glimpses of you all that often, when I hear a certain kind of wisecrack or songs that you liked, you’re still right there, and I greet you without embarrassment.
The songs that you sing along with on the oldies station as I’m driving with the windows open are “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” “Stuck In The Middle With You” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.”
That list makes me laugh. These are not exactly songs of a contented soul.
You were not a fan, say, of “Our House” (is a very, very, very fine house). You preferred “Born To Be Wild.”
The wisecracks that bring you back? Dad, you were often at your best when you were at your worst. You were scathingly, cruelly and insightfully funny at the expense of others. And “others” included me.
When I was in college and I told you that I was taking classes in urban education, human sexuality and the history of the immigrant underclass, it took you less than two seconds to ask what exactly I was learning at Dartmouth that I couldn’t learn on 10th Avenue.
But at that point, I’d also learned enough from you to be able to answer. I said that at Dartmouth, unlike on 10th Avenue, I’d get credit. You never laughed at a good line, but you’d nod your head and half a smile would appear at the corner. That was how I knew I won.
The odd thing is, of course, that I didn’t like you when I was a little kid. I saw you only as the person who made my mother sad.
In part, that was because I hardly knew you, since you worked six and sometimes seven days a week at the family business sewing and selling bedspreads and curtains, leaving before I was awake and returning home only an hour or so before I went to bed. The other contributing factor to my sense of distance and of wariness, however, is that I believe you really were a lousy husband to my Mom. There’s no reason not to be honest now, right, Dad? She didn’t trust you, and she probably had reason not to. I was her ally, and you were the opposition, if not the enemy.
When she died, young, sad and unreconciled to life, you and I were left in what had become a lonely and dreary house to sift through the wreckage.
And we did, in ways that forged the father/daughter relationship that had never before existed.
At the end of your life, you said you wished you could have made my mother happy, which made me say how desperately I’d wished for the same thing. We acknowledged our limitations, Dad. It was a moment of forgiveness, and I only hope Mom heard it, too.
I hope you can hear me now, or read me, or sense my wave in your direction. You did the best you could to become a good father to a tough daughter, and I did my best to make you proud.
We did just fine, Dad. Just fine.
Gina Barreca is a board of trustees distinguished professor of English literature at the University of Connecticut and the author of 10 books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.