There is a plain white t-shirt I keep in my t-shirt drawer with two, traced out hands that are drawn in two different colors, and above this are the words “Happy Father’s Day,” with each letter written in a different color.
I keep this shirt in my t-shirt drawer, not because I wear it, but because it is a nice surprise to accidentally pull out while trying to rush through the morning and find an undershirt.
This is one of the first father’s day gifts my daughter gave to me. There are more, which like this, are different artistic creations. Some are drawings with clumps of glue and sparkles on colored construction paper. And this too is something I can vaguely remember doing when I was a little boy in some art class somewhere. Probably my last creation like this would have been made in Mrs. Humley’s art class, which was back in the days of McVey Elementary School.
I assume I traced my hands too because this was an easy trick. I remember the glitter and the colored construction paper. I remember the bottles of rubber cement, which led to a small problem for me because I liked the smell; however, I was too young to know what an inhalant was, so I do feel the out loud humiliation screamed by Mrs. Humley in front of the class and the trip to the principal’s office was a bit excessive. I was not “Sniffing glue,” per se. I just liked the smell of rubber cement. The “Sniffing glue,” thing didn’t come until later.
I am sure I made plenty of artistic creations for The Old Man on Father’s Day. I am sure they were held proudly for a while but eventually the gifts went somewhere in a box, or wherever it is The Old Man placed his Father’s Day memories.
I have no recollection of any gifts that I gave to The Old Man. I never bought him like say, a tie, or anything like that. I do recall making him an ashtray once. The Old Man never smoked, but if he decided to give smoking a try, at least he would have an ashtray, which was molded out of clay, placed in a kiln, and painted by me, his youngest son. I am sure The Old Man laughed about this. I am sure he placed the ashtray somewhere and the ashtray still lives in the place where all of the old Father’s Day gifts go to retire.
My last Father’s Day with The Old Man was June 18, 1989. He and I were on shaken terms. I was young; I was angry and unreachable. There were cuts in my skin and I was on my way through the downward spiral of drug addiction. In truth, I have no memory of my last Father’s Day with The Old Man.
Most likely, I was lost in a nod somewhere or comatose in bed after the night before.
The Old Man and I struggled to connect with each other. We wanted to connect, but I was losing to drug addiction and he was losing to the sadness of watching his youngest son die in tiny pieces.
Two months later and at the tail-end of August, I was taken into police custody and placed in a cage. This would be my introduction to sobriety. All of my behavior had finally reached its boiling point. I was removed from my surroundings and taken away from my home. This was not an easy time for me; however, this was the beginning of something good.
Eventually, The Old Man was not at me angry anymore.
I know this because he told me so.
I admit the idea of sobriety or complete abstinence of any mind-altering substance made little sense to me. But there were some early rewards. There were benefits to sobriety, which was something I never expected.
The Old Man was not angry at me. We were able to speak to each other without the usual tension that thickened between us. I saw the possibility of a relationship with him. At last, I could be the son he wanted and he could be the father I wanted. Of anything I wished for at that time; I wished for this the most.
Four months into my sobriety, I was living in a sober community on a farm in Upstate New York and all was well. The courts made their agreement with me. There was nothing hanging over my head; nobody was looking for me and there was light at the end of the tunnel. All was well until I received word that my father was sick.
The Old Man died on December 29, 1989. I was only 17 years-old.
I was sober for our last conversation. There were no cuts in my skin or drugs in my system. I was clear-headed, shorthaired, and cleaned up. And while I wished The Old Man saw more, at least he saw this much.
I used to visit The Old Man at the cemetery on Father’s Day.
But I don’t like cemeteries.
That’s where dead people live . . .
I have come to believe that there are better ways to visit The Old Man, like say, going to the beach we used to walk along when I was a boy.
The beach is alive, which in my opinion is what keeps The Old Man alive.
And that’s a good thing.
Father’s Day was never easy after The Old Man passed. The holiday had little meaning to me until I became a father myself. And no, my daughter never made an ashtray for me— but I do have the t-shirt as well as my own collection of colored construction paper with scribbles of crayon. And no, these pieces of artwork will never make it on the walls of an art museum, but they will always make me smile.
It is true; there is sill a feeling of emptiness on Father’s Day.
I often wonder what I would get The Old Man for a Father’s Day present if he were still around. I imagine he would come over for a barbecue and The Old Man would laugh an understanding laugh as I went through the same frustrations he went through as a homeowner. He would smile his understanding smile as I set the table and fed my family. I suppose this gift would be good enough.
This year, Father’s Day is different. By this time, my Mother usually calls to wish me a Happy Father’s Day. She calls early because she knows I never sleep late.. However, that phone call will not come this year. No, this year Mom decided to go pay The Old Man a visit. I
Happy Father’s Day, Pop.
Hope you and Mom are doing well and I’m glad you’re back together.
Like I said, I don’t do cemeteries. That’s where dead people live.
Maybe I’ll drive by the old house at 277 Merrick Avenue later . . .
That’s where we used to live.