My father was an artist.
He could draw, although by the time I was old enough to notice such things he’d stopped. I only learned he could draw when I found out two of the paintings hanging in our house were his. He hadn’t kept up with it, but he was good—far better than I am, and better, I think, than I’ll be able to get. I enjoy drawing, but I lack a spark.
He was a photographer. When we were little, he mostly took pictures of my mother. There was a darkroom in the house – I think it was in the basement, but I’m not sure. He developed his own black and white photos. Years later, when he switched to color photography, he stopped doing his own developing, telling me it was considerably more complicated (and expensive).
After they’d both retired, it was my mother who returned to photography. She even picked up some paying gigs.
He built furniture. One table, about 5 feet long and 2 feet high, is still in their apartment. That table is nearly as old as I am; I’m not sure the last time anyone opened its drawers. It’s a sturdy, simple, beautiful thing, and one of their only possessions I’d feel strongly about not giving away.
He talked a lot about writing, but he never did it. That was a hobby of his, too: daydreaming aloud, spinning possibilities, imagining success at an endeavor he had no inrention of actually trying. He told me once he had a story idea: a massive generation ship carting passengers across the galaxy. I never pointed out that wasn’t an idea so much as a setting.
I do write a lot of generation ships.
He never read my books. My mother did–she was my first reader until her dementia advanced too far for her to follow for more than a sentence or two. My dad was a peacock-proud father when I was published, and he bought them all, but he never read them.
Probably a good thing he was never exposed to the infamous Chapter 2.
He was a private pilot. A lot of my childhood was spent in a Cessna 182. Flying was really the last of his active hobbies he gave up, around the time I headed off to college, when they moved out of the suburbs. I asked him, once, about letting his license lapse; he’d loved it so much. He said he’d had a wonderful time flying, but he was finished with it now.
A few years ago, when he could still communicate well, he talked about wanting to fly again. I remember we went to some lengths to distract him from the idea until it dropped out of his head. My mother was worried and frightened; I had to reassure her nobody was going to let him fly a plane.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016. I only know this because it’s in his medical record; he didn’t tell me. He expressed great concern for my mother and her increasing troubles, but she wasn’t diagnosed until a year after he was. His fears for hiimself got projected onto others. Who can blame him? All of his life he’d been valued for his wit and cleverness.
He kept his wit and cleverness. What he lost was the ability to choose the right words and organize his thoughts so he could share them with the rest of us. The Kid tells me over Christmas he was making jokes with her about French; she speaks no French, but she said he seemed very amused.
I choose to find that wonderful.
I am like him, and I am not. I wish I’d understood better, when I was little, the things we shared, but there are barriers between parents and children that prevent us from seeing some things until it’s too late. And I’m not sure he and I could have rearranged our adult-to-adult relationship any better than we did. He was a part of my life to the end, and a part of his granddaughter’s life. I don’t know if one could ask for more than that.
I talk to him now. He’s himself at his most relaxed, able to listen, able to discuss things dispassionately and with humor. I talk to him about myself, my career, my doubts; I talk to him about The Kid and everything that terrifies me. He’s kind and clear-headed in a way he rarely was in life. I don’t think we could ever have had any of these discussions when he was here. But when I talk to him now, he understands me—and that I think was always true. There are pieces of me he always knew, like nobody else could.
I miss that.