to my dad, for his birthday

Dear Dad,

Your birthday was yesterday, and I didn’t get you a card. I haven’t in a long time, so this year wasn’t different, but you were on my mind the whole day, just on the periphery of my mental to-do list that’s always churning.

You would freak over the amount of work we still have to do here. I spackled the dining room walls today.  Part of me thinks it would be quicker to just tear all the plaster down, but I think it came out pretty good. You could probably point out some spots I missed, but as good as I am, I’m still not at the level of attention to detail that you have. And you’d probably tell me that not all the prints in the house are level; every time I straighten one I chuckle in my head and think of you.  The moldings in the living room and dining room are in good shape, but I’d love to add some upstairs.  I wish you could help me with them. I really wish you could come see this place.

For your birthday, I just wanted to tell you that I hope you know that you were never one of those dads I was embarrassed by.  In fact, I was always proud of you and mom, and loved bringing my friends home. Whenever I missed the bus home after middle school, I was happy that I could call and knew you would come pick me up.  You would always ask about my day, and would always let me play whatever music I wanted.  Yeah, you made fun of The Cranberries (and called them the Raspberries) but I knew you were just teasing.

Paul and I had a friend over for lunch a few weeks ago and we started talking about what TV we watched as kids. I remember how you sat through more than half of the My So-Called Life marathon on MTV with me, not to make sure that it was appropriate, but because you liked watching TV with me. I hope you know how rare and special that was.  I would love to see your reaction to American Pickers. I think we would enjoy watching that together.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 16 years. But then I try to remember your voice, and it all comes crashing back that you’ve been gone for over half my life. I talk to you in my head, sometimes, when I’m trying to figure out a problem in the house. There are so many things that we missed. I find fragments of you in the house from time to time. Things that I thought were back on Long Island or tucked away in a box. A card that you gave me when I won an academic medal in German class, a picture of you as a toddler that Oma framed, your old work glasses spattered with paint.

Mom gave me your watch recently. It’s huge on me, but I can see the hole where you used to tighten the leather band to, slightly worn, and I can almost remember your hands. I get so upset sometimes when Mom gives me something of yours. Not angry, mind you, but terribly sad because they’re the only things I have left of you. All I have are those things, and my few memories, and the wonderful stories that mom shares with me. I treasure those things because, in my mind, they keep part of you alive.

You would have turned 71 yesterday. Retired, I would think, and driving mom nuts with house projects or your model trains. I still would have stolen your red L.L. Bean flannel shirt from you, and you probably would have blamed your balding on me at some point. I would have made you sit down and translate your letters from Tante Lötte, written in her neat German script, so I could find out about that side of my family that I never knew. German was supposed to be our secret language together, but I never mastered it without you. We would have done so many things.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Ich liebe dich.