Fourteen Father’s Days since Elena was born.
Half as many since she died.
It’s going to be like that all year until we reach the point at which she will have been gone as long as she lived.
One of Kim’s uncle’s was marking that moment for his child when we saw him at his brother’s wake. For him it was twenty some years. The point of parity was still sadly poignant for him.
I’m in my usual Father’s Day afternoon spot on the green bench just to the left of Elena’s grave.
A pair of middle aged african american women walk towards me. One says to me “if it wasn’t for that bench, I don’t think I could find the grave.”
I nod and smile and give them their space.
They unwrap two beautiful wreaths and follow the directions on the back to set them up. It takes them a while and I try not to intrude. They finish and step back and proudly admire their work.
“Happy Father’s day, daddy”, one says.
We chat a bit about the neighborhood. Their loved one is just down the row from Elena. We chat about how the section has almost filled. We chat about the bench that we both use as a marker. They say goodbye and walk back to their car.
The first time I was in this cemetery was for Clarissa and Mel’s wedding. They got married at the Garfield monument. I had no idea then that I’d someday be buried just down the way.
Mel didn’t used to call his mom on his birthday not hers. He used to say that his birthday meant more to her. It was her own Mother’s Day. The day she became a mother.
“Nonsense,” Clarissa told me. “He calls her on his birthday because he can’t remember when hers is.”
I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle.
On Mother’s Day I think of my mom, of course. I call her to check in knowing Kim has sent her a card.
Really, on Mother’s Day for the last fifteen years I mostly think of Kim. She’s the embodiment of motherhood to me. Her kids come first in a way that is good for them and good for her.
On Father’s Day I think of my dad, of course. I call him to check in. Yes, Kim has already sent a card.
Mostly, on Father’s Day, I think of my girls. I remember today, like all other days, that being a dad is the best.
I remember a woman turning to place Maggie in my arms. This bowling ball in a sailor suit who would soon become my daughter legally. Soon legally other but immediately in every other sense.
Later that first day while I napped on the bed, Kim watched as Maggie climbed out of her crib, onto the bed, and crawled over to me laying her twelve month old head on my chest and stealing my heart forever.
In the moths that followed we carried Maggie everywhere. We held her a lot.
People would say to Kim “she’ll never learn to walk.”
Then again people had said that about Tara when she was a puppy. Despite the warnings Tara had learned to walk fine. So would and so did Maggie.
Maggie was and is amazing.
Every day she would do something that would have us shake our head.
I would give Maggie a big hug every day and tell her how smart she was, how beautiful she was, and how much I loved her.
After a while, Maggie grew out of all that. She would squirm away from hugs and then avoid them altogether. She grew impatient, then angry, when I would say nice things about her. She didn’t like when Kim and I noticed things about her. Then again, she didn’t like when we didn’t notice either.
The first time I was in the cemetery was at Mel’s wedding but the second time, not too many years later, was at his funeral.
I think of him sometimes on Father’s Day. I remember Mel with Clarissa’s daughter. The little girl had a father but during the part of the week that she was with them, Mel was a great parent without the title.
He paid attention to the little girl with intensity. He always seemed to have time for her. I learned a lot about being a dad from Mel.
I learned to pay attention to my kids and they would teach me much of what I needed to know. I love being with my girls. Really being present and just hanging out.
I do miss the hugs. Elena gave great hugs. Then again, who knows. Over the span of the last seven Father’s Days she may have grown out of them like her big sister.
In those same seven years Maggie has grown into so much. She is still so smart. She is still so beautiful.
Today Maggie game me an awesome personal card that she made for me for Father’s Day. It was a card that captured who she is right now in a funny and clever way.
For seven years I’ve spent some part of Father’s Day at the cemetery watching people come to spend a moment or two remembering their dads.
For me, for now, Father’s Day is all about my kids.
Then again, when you’re a dad, everything is.