Of course Dad got cold once in a while. Sure. He had to. We lived in Central New York. I still do. It gets cold. Snow falls sometimes more than a foot in a day. I remember how cold I was playing youth football in freezing rain while he stood on the sidelines with the other dads who all looked frozen. Dad wore no hat, held no umbrella, just smoked his cigarettes. He had to be cold. No doubt.
Except I wonder.
Driving to my job this morning I was desperate for the car to warm up. Come on, come on, come on, I said. I kept checking the vent with my bare hand then blowing into my fist trying to keep from shaking. Some of this was the cold, some was not having dressed warmly, and some was the anxiety I feel every day I drive toward my job. Whatever the case, I felt cold and got to thinking about Dad.
Of course he got cold, but I don't remember hearing him say so. He had to have said so once or twice but if so it didn't stick with me. Instead, he's the guy who went out in the cold in a light jacket or his funeral directing suit, felt hat, overcoat left open, and maybe a pair of black leather gloves. I remember being cold and complaining about it while he listened. His teeth never chattered.
I'm thinking these things having just marked the fourth anniversary of Dad's death. Mom and I spent the day together and at one point she asked how I'm dealing with him being gone. I'm good, I told her. It's what I usually say to that kind of question, but I felt it this time. I'm good. When he died I thought I would have to find some way to put him away, to not think about him, to let him go. I thought I would grieve and then Dad would be gone so that I could go on. Instead, I grieved and continue to grieve, but I turn toward him and his memory and it's not like he's still here, but I'm not alone. I write about him often, think of him even more, mark the dates that matter (anniversary, birthday, when he bought his funeral home, the day he died), and spend maybe too much time comparing myself to him.
Which is why I felt wrong giving in so much to being cold this morning. It's why I worry that I'm supposed to cope with my awful job which has become more than I can bear. Dad never seemed to find anything too much for his strengths.
Then I remember the job he left to buy the funeral home. He had to get out. He hung in a long time, even after buying his own place, and ran both businesses, but eventually, for reasons I can easily imagine now, he quit that other job. His business wasn't making ends meet. There were signs it might not ever. Quitting the other job was messy, dangerous even. But I know something now: staying in the job was a messier and more dangerous choice than leaving.
Of course Dad got cold. He didn't say much about it. That was his way. He didn't talk a lot about himself and he hardly ever spoke of things being difficult or over his head. I was his child — I still am — and I still enjoy thinking of him as towering, powerful, capable of anything, maybe everything. But I know he was cold. There's that line somebody or other wrote: he was a man, take him for all in all. Men and women reach their breaking points. Teeth chatter, hands go cold, death comes eventually or suddenly. And when we are alone in our frozen cars driving toward a job that feels toxic and venomous, sometimes we cry out for mercy. The traffic pays us no mind.
When I imagine Dad in those situations, he looks and sounds almost exactly like me.