It is my father's eightieth birthday though he's no longer here to celebrate. He died in 2015, so we won't have cake, the girls won't make cards, and we've bought no present. Yesterday Mom said, "tomorrow will be a hard day. It's the thirteenth." Dad's birthday, as if I could forget. Dates matter to me. There was no way I wouldn't remember his birthday. I've been thinking about it for weeks, but I've been looking forward to it.
The day will be difficult for Mom as are the anniversary of his death, their wedding anniversary, and even her birthday, the milestones of him being gone from her. I think of him on the anniversary of buying his business and at the start of Syracuse Women's Basketball season. For Mom these days are filled with sadness. They play out differently within me.
I'm grateful today. As the years pass Dad's memory takes up less and less space. This sad fact is inescapable: the dead pass away. All the calendar days still occupied by my memories of him, these are chances to come back to Dad, to have him come back to me. I'll spend much of today thinking of my kids and wife, the weather, my job, my brother and mother, and whatever is in the news, but I'll have Dad with me and smile because there's one thing about his death that comforts me.
Dad forever remains for me as he was. Aside from the heart attack that felled him, he was healthy and whole. His eyesight was being restored. He got around well and could drive. He was strong and able if not so much as he once had been. He took care of himself and others. All of which is to say that he never suffered a decline, something he would have hated. Dad was able and capable for all his life. Were he here now to reflect on things he would nod and call his a good ending.
Still, I miss him and wish he was here to celebrate, but my wish is mostly selfish. I want him to behold my daughters and hear the sweet voice of his beloved daughter in law. I want him to have a few more hours at the garage with my brother and their cars. I want him at home with Mom doing the simple, routine things of their lives, the ordinary magic of life together. And I want to take him to a basketball game, sit beside him, and not need to say a damn thing, just cheer and be together.
These are my greedy dreams. They fall apart when I consider having to again say goodbye to him. Instead, today, his birthday, I say hey, Dad. He doesn't need to say anything back. He never had to. Though often enough the words he said to me sounded exactly like, I love you, son and they still do.