Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing. Which seems impossible to me, because 20 years is two-thirds of my life, and it just can’t be that he has been gone that long. It was just the other day… really.
Seeing these pictures on a computer makes my heart ache. So far, they have only lived on the walls of my house, holding places in books I have read over the years, taken up small slivers of space in precious boxes in the basement or on the top shelf of my closet. The small box of things I had belonging to him stays– a pair of eyeglasses, the license plate from his old beat-up Checker, a tee shirt he wore often, his old Christmas stocking from when he was a kid, along with some other pictures and notes from faculty friends at the university where he taught photography.
My Aunt Barbara (left) and my Father
I search his face in these pictures, looking for glimpses of his grandsons. And they are there! Something in the eyes with Emil; this picture above reminds me of Milo; and I swear Oliver has his nose or chin, I can’t place it, but it’s there.
Mama Joan and Daddy Jack, 1980
And though it was two-thirds of my life ago, I was old enough to remember him well. How he used to play practical jokes on all of us (including my mom) all the time: turning out all the lights in the house and creeping around silently like a cat until he caught one of us in a whirlwind of screams and laughter; pulling the overhead branch of a tree, covered in raindrops from a recent rainfall as we passed under, only to jump out of the way so that I was left standing soaking wet and surprised but laughing. I remember playing catch with him in the field across the street from our house; how he would throw the baseball waaaaaaay up high, as high as the heavens, while my brother and I scrambled to get underneath it to catch it. I remember sitting on the basement steps watching him between the wooden bars of the stairs as he painted giant canvases and mixed colors onto huge sheets of plastic. He took us to get Rally’s hamburgers in his Checker cab and let us roller skate down the long corridor of the photography lab building even though we probably shouldn’t have.
My father instilled a sense of social equality in me from a young age. I remember going with him to meet up with several homeless people whom he had photographed and befriended. He spoke to them with respect and in my young eyes, they were people with stories and problems, but also with dignity. I probably became a social worker because of him, in some ways.
He showed me what a marriage was supposed to be. He and my mom were intensely playful and affectionate, and had the occasional blow-up arguments that they always resolved. They did not hide disagreements from us kids, and because of that I grew up to understand how to talk (and sometimes yell) the way through tough spots. And that those times did not mean the end of a relationship, just the shifting of one. Normal. Together, they showed me normal.
I think about my father most when big things happen in my life. When I graduated high school, then college. Grad school. Got married, and had a baby soon after. Then another baby. Then another! And today. I think about him and remember. And smile. I love you, Dad.
We all miss you.