I was visited by the spirit of my father this afternoon as I raked my yard. Turning the rake over and dragging it along the ground to release the leaves that had been skewered by the tines, I was pulled back in time to the day my dad showed me this little trick of unclogging my rake.
A simple thing, of course, but, at the time, to the child that I was, it was amazing. It was one of those “how cool is that!” moments. I’ve never lost the feeling of childlike wonder and delight at learning what seemed at the time to be a mysterious grownup secret that my dad was letting me in on. I still think it’s a pretty neat trick, and his presence is with me every time I do it.
I have these sorts of moments from time to time. I recall my father showing me how to sweep dust out of a corner; every time I jab a broom into a tight spot—just so—he is there. I remember ballroom dancing with him to Lawrence Welk’s music on television, telling me as he led me around our tiny living room that the proper way to dance was on the balls of my feet—my very first dancing lesson, by the first of what would eventually be many dance teachers.
My dad has been gone for nearly forty years now, but he remains with me and visits me from time to time through these flashes of memory, though I’ve never really thought about it this way until recently. For most of my life, I’ve mostly been aware of—and, in later years, accepted—his absence. I used to dream of him returning, not dead after all, with some highly improbable tale explaining his delayed homecoming—which always seemed perfectly reasonable in the context of the dream. No dream interpretation needed here: I wanted my father back.
Eventually the fact that my family consisted of only my mother and my siblings and me began to seem normal. I grew used to not having a father. Now, however, I realize that my father has always been with me in one way or another, in ways that I hadn’t really considered or given significance until lately.
His presence often comes to me in feelings. The feeling of freedom I felt when he removed his steadying hand from the back of my bicycle and and stood in the driveway, watching as I rode on by myself, is as clear today as it was when I was seven. I also have memories of a day I spent with him at work when I was 14 or 15. I remember the things we did and the places we went (lunch at the air base snack shop where he put French dressing on his fries!) and the people he introduced me to, but mostly I remember feeling proud to be his daughter and and feeling grown up—and knowing that he had realized it, too.
My father is with me in the nicknames he called me, which my family and a few select friends still use. He is with me in the line of my jaw, my brown eyes, my dark brows. He is with me in every step I have ever danced, even though he never had the chance to see me perform.
As I plant my garden, he is kneeling in the dirt beside me, and I often imagine the debates we would likely have about hybrid tea roses versus old roses, chemical sprays versus organic methods. He guides my hand as I work on DIY projects around the house, as I paint and sand and saw and drill and hammer. I still associate the smell of wood and sawdust with him, recalling the years that he spent more or less single-handedly building the addition to our house.
He springs up before me every time I see a man wearing a pair of spectator shoes or a seersucker suit, yet I also smile remembering him in an old T-shirt and shorts, working on the addition or surf-fishing at the beach. Some years after his death, I ended up with a pair of shorts from his Marine days that had his name stamped on the waistband; I took in the waist and wore them for years. They definitely looked cool, but I think it was mostly a way to have him close to me.
I see my father in my brother’s face (the resemblance is often striking) and in his chosen profession of photography. Dad took endless photos and slides of us as we were growing up, and I know that he would have been proud of my brother’s considerable talents. My other brother inherited my father’s skills with carpentry; in another reality, they might have spent weekends together working on home improvement projects. My father also looks out at me from my sister’s face…her dark brows, which are in contrast to her otherwise fair coloring, are so like my father’s.
I no longer need those homecoming dreams; although I’m late in realizing it, my father has never really left me. I can see him in my mind’s eye as clearly as if he were standing in front of me, looking at me over the top of his reading glasses with a hint of wry amusement in his eyes. I can feel his presence, and I know he’ll always be with me.