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On Doing What Dad Would Have Done

“Why did you want your mother to call you on Father’s Day?”

This is my aunt’s boyfriend, asking. I am in the middle of explaining the reason Mom and I are not currently speaking.

“Because she’s the only parent I have left,” I answer. A lot of other thoughts stop short at my mouth, piling up there, blaring their horns. But I detain them, behind my teeth, where only I can hear. I divert traffic when I swallow. Because maybe my grief is not normal grief. Maybe I am crazy.

I wanted my mother to call me on Father’s Day because I was sad, and she knew I was sad, and I knew that she knew that I was sad. I wanted my mother to call me on Father’s Day because he is my father to her, too, because she said “your dad” all the time, interchangeably with “Brian.” I wanted my mother to call me on Father’s Day because she should step up, she has to step up, because I need her to be my father now. I wanted my mother to call me on Father’s Day because it’s what my dad would have done, on Mother’s Day, if she had died instead of him.

Hey, sweetheart. I’ve been thinking about you. Just wanted to see how you’re doing.

In Starting With Goodbye, a memoir about a father’s death, Lisa Romeo writes of looking for her father around her, after his passing. She has a relative who she’s not close to, and who maybe doesn’t make the most wholesome decisions, but she goes to see him because he looks like her dad. She realizes this was her goal, later, when she is disappointed. Because he is not her dad. No matter how she squints.

Romeo writes: “…I understand he isn’t the closest I can get to my father on earth. …I am.”

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I read this, after my mom and I have patched things up. It makes me realize that I have not forgiven her yet, not really, for not calling me on Father’s Day. It makes me realize that I should, that I have to. I can’t expect her to be my dad. She could never be. She’s my mom. And she’s good at it.

Meanwhile.

I donate money to a disabled rescue dog, because my dad loved dogs and he has a disabled daughter. My mother doesn’t want to talk about Dad, it’s not how she is grieving, so I talk about Dad – to other people, to you, right now. I write and write and write and it’s all about my dad, because the father I knew is what he left to me, and only me, to keep or to share as I see fit. He matters to me, and I must keep him alive so that he can keep me alive, so that I remember how I mattered to him. So that I have the strength, after a long day of falling short or flat-out failing, to call myself sweetheart.

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