My father died last June from metastasized melanoma. Skin cancer. Typing that, reading it, or saying it aloud–it still feels completely unreal. As though those words don’t apply to me but instead to someone else.
Something you will often hear from people who don’t know what else to say is “He’s here, he’s still with you.” I know that they mean the sentiment in the abstract, but it’s hard for me not to take what they’re saying literally. See, I find it impossible to speak about my father in the past tense, despite the fact that the last time I spoke to him and will ever speak to him in this lifetime was over 18 months ago. My father still feels present somehow. Whether it’s in the way that my mother still kisses his picture goodnight or how my nose is flat at the end, just like his, or how my music taste is deeply rooted in his child-of-the-60s nature.
I love my father in the present tense, and something seems so wrong about using the past tense in relation to him.
To say that my family is close would be an understatement. We are not only family, but all four of us are best friends. My mother and father’s relationship was and still is something incredible to behold. They have the all-encompassing love of a great romance novel, only with a lot more sick humor. Still, every day he becomes less of a presence and more of a memory, and nothing has ever scared me so deeply. I’m terrified that one day, saying he “was” or he “did” will feel natural to me.
When I was given the opportunity to write about anything, my father was my very first thought. He’s my first thought most days, now. I weep often, mostly not for my losing him, but for the fact that my future children have lost out on hearing his incredible stories in his gruff, magnificent voice.
I mourn the great love I got to bear direct witness to when I’d watch my father smile at my mother. Most nights, I cry for her. I myself am in a relationship with a great man, and I only know how in love I am with him because of the outstanding examples of love that I grew up with. My parents had 30 incredible years together. They should have had 30 more. 100 more. My father should still be here.
I miss him yelling at me for leaving a mess. I miss him telling me how proud he is of my most seemingly minute accomplishments. I miss him calling me “mushy” or “babydoll” and giving me advice in the way only a father could. In the way only MY father could.
Years of being a cowboy, or a teacher to delinquents, or just a delinquent himself, made him wiser than any man has a right to be. I’m smart because he was smart. Indescribably smart. The kind of smart that makes you wonder why Google even exists. I’m crying now as I type this, because I know that I can’t run into the next room and ask him to proofread this essay. I have never submitted any writing without showing it to him first. His approval meant more than any teacher’s ever could.
To know my father was to love him and to be teased relentlessly by him. People often tell me I remind them of him, and I pray every day that through me, maybe a small part of my dad can stay on Earth for a little while longer, because god damn it, do we need him. Everyone needs him.
My father was magic–IS magic. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to say he “was.” He is magic because we (my brother and I) are, too.
He still loves because we, my mother and our family, still love. Fiercely, powerfully, and without end. So, every time people say “he’s still with you,” I know they aren’t wrong. He still is, because I am.
But god, it would be nice to hear him laugh.
This feature is published as part of the 2018 Love and Loss Issue ©