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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A Year in the Rearview Mirror

They say eyes clear with age,
As dew clarifies air
To sharpen evenings,
As if time put an edge
Round the last shape of things
To show them there;
The many-levelled trees,
The long soft tides of grass
Wincing away, the gold
Wind-ridden waves – all these,
They say, come back to focus
As we grow old.
—Philip Larkin, “Long Sight in Age,”
The Complete Poems

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For me, the year that is about to end started inauspiciously. Two friends verbally included me in plans to attend a New Year’s Eve sober party that night, and each one forgot me, their promise, or the party. Perhaps each one forgot those things in that order, but by midnight the details were superfluous as were any apologies.

At a brunch the next day, all three of us were there, but no apologies were offered anyway. Perhaps that sums up everyone’s 2020 as we ring it out in gatherings smaller than last year’s parties or even alone (tonight makes a few consecutive years alone for your correspondent): “No apologies were offered anyway.”

The year that is about to open for business will not immediately offer new emotions or news that will change one’s day-to-day life, of course. The collective desire for tomorrow morning to bring something that we can only give ourselves—peace and togetherness—dominates the online conversations that I witness. The year we just experienced together in our collective aloneness, well, many people want to feel what it feels like to let something go; they want January 1 and the promise that that date represents to carry us away from this painful season.

We say that we are ready for something new, but it is likely that some of us said that very same thing last January 1, and something new is indeed what I experienced in 2020, again and again. This is true for many of us.
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