Father’s Day Memories: Across the River

The memories below first appeared on this website a few years ago when my dad was still alive. He thanked me on Facebook at the time, even though he did not remember some of the details contained in its paragraphs.

My father, Bob Aldrich, died over a year ago on May 10, 2020, in the first great wave of Covid-19 deaths in the United States. He was 84 and had lived a complicated life in which kindness and his family—my mom, my sister, and me—served as his emotional North Star. (Past a certain age, seven maybe, no life is uncomplicated.) His death was preventable, and my fury at this has protected me from my grief from then till now, because no one volunteers to feel grief. Well, I never have, not yet anyway.

I campaigned to include his name among the ever-lengthening list of those lost to Covid, as has my sister. Our parents would have done no less for us, of that I am sure.

I awoke this morning, Father’s Day 2021, with the sense that this is the first Father’s Day without my dad, but of course that is incorrect: it’s the second one. That is what I mean about being “protected from grief” by my anger. Grief with anger is merely anger; but grief on its own can feel like a new version of sadness made brand-new and fashioned just for me each morning. I had not volunteered for that, but life signs us up for grief the day we are born.

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Some memories are of photographs and not of the incident itself, but some memories of an incident feel like they are a memory of a photo, with the details so clear and specific and accessible. In one of my memories of my dad, it feels like I could count the rocks in the creek bed if I would just take the time.
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Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mom is 80 today!

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My mother gave me many gifts in the day-to-day life of raising my younger sister and me, and for me most of them involve the things that I still consider important: literature, comedy, performance. I’m grateful that I get to share with my mom our appreciation of various comedians and shows; she remains someone about whom I think if she laughs at a joke it is a funny joke.

By age ten, I knew Freddie Prinze (every kid in that era did) and Saturday Night Live, but also the complete recorded works of Mickey Katz and Allen Sherman. It was a good range of comedians that she exposed me to.

The stories that I learned about her childhood I learned from others, not from her, which came from an innate humility on her part (one does not talk about oneself, as that shows an unbecoming pride … man, have I failed that standard!) and the fact that it seems to have been a uniquely painful childhood. Her aunt Rose told me long ago that before she was ten years of age my mom used to translate the day’s newspaper into Yiddish for her own grandmother, who did not read English. Whenever I’ve asked my mom about this, she demurs with a laugh and the statement, “I guess it’s true if she said so.”

She wanted to become an educator, and because she did not, I guess anecdotes like that represent an unfulfilled promise in her mind. However, for my sister and me, my mom was an educator.
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The View From Fifty-Two

Because the past has a script, we think it is easier there.

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In an informal survey that I have conducted my entire life, there are no popular songs about the experience of life at fifty-two years of age, which is too bad because today I am fifty-two.

Fifty-two is of course the same number as a full deck of cards, which is something that I had not noticed until it was pointed out to me, I am ashamed to tell you. Thus: not a full deck here.

I relate to certain lines in some songs a bit more closely than I may want to admit (Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” has the pithy, “I ache in the places I used to play,” for instance), but what is fifty-two? There is no answer to that any more than there is to the same question about the round-number ages, about which society deems it okay to be dramatic and sing songs about the significance of one’s body and the number of revolutions around our star it has made.
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