the magnitude

My father would have been 76 today.

One of the biggest challenges about my father, second only to being a passenger in the car he was driving, was buying him presents.
Usually, we’d combine his birthday gift with his Father’s Day gift to save ourselves the stress. Because he was so thoughtful with ours (he’d call a month before our birthdays, when we were cooking dinner or doing homework, expecting an immediate answer to the question of what we’d like him to buy us), we always wanted to get him something special, memorable, useful—more out of love than obligation.
Every so often, we’d get a good idea, and we’d milk that for as long as we could. Because my dad owned a paving company, and because alligatoringwas a thing that happened to asphalt, we started an alligator collection for him.  He’d smile at the inside joke and set the paving stone or paperweight or bottle opener or sculpture or mosaic down on the table, and my mom would find a place for it.
The rest of it—bathrobes, sweaters, ties, socks, wallets, money clips—stayed in their boxes for years because he didn’t need anything.  There was a good shot he’d wear it if it had a horse on it, though, so we’d bought him a rainbow of Polo shirts, beach towels, shorts, and enough cologne to drown a polo pony.

Sometimes we’d buy him gift certificates that he’d lose under the seat of his car or CDs he wanted but which still had the shrink wrap on them when he died.  The things he treasured the most were the XXL sleep shirts with his grandchildren’s photos ironed on them. In fact, Beth would pay for the shirts and transfers, and I’d take the pictures and do the ironing.  

The last few were a large. We took them to the rehab center on Christmas, and he cried.  I’d only seen him cry maybe one other time in my life, and that was when hisfather died.  I’m wearing one of those shirts now, a photo of Serena kissing Marcus. My dad never got to wear it.

Today is like the last mile of firsts: first birthday without him, first Father’s Day without him, and, in 25 days, it will be the end of the first year without him. 

I have been in a bad mood for eleven months. If I ever had patience, it left with my father. I’m easily frustrated, often angry, moody, pensive, and very lonely.  It would be easier to count the days I didn’t cry on my way to work.  I am like a gurgling volcano. It’s very hard to tell when it’s safe to come near me.

On July 5th, the anniversary of his death, I expect to ooze hot lava for three days, until the headstone unveiling on the 7th, when I will be done erupting and will begin to cool down.  I might have a little residual steam, but I’ll probably be safe for the tourists.

Yeah. It’s going to happen just like that.  
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  1. Sarah June 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Beautifully written, as usual. Your posts always make me cry but not always for the same reasons.
    I can imagine how hard the past 11 months and few days have been. I do imagine it as my father is 73 and so every medical issue, every doctor visit and hospital stay, makes me do so.
    What I know about grief is this: it doesn't end, it only changes shape. It goes from a scratchy, tight, uncomfortable burlap sack around your torso to a loose rag with a softness to it. You don't think about it as much, but you always know it's there.

  2. sanzi June 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    My dad was hard to shop for, too. And despite the years I spent in counseling trying to understand whether he loved me, when he died of a heart attack in 1995, I knew he did and I knew how he showed me. One of my favorite memories is seeing him come to every art event I had – to show his love and support and belief in me. Oh me. Off I go. To cry over missing him these last 18 years and my mom for 95 days. And I may as well add Wiley to the list. 10 yrs. How can it be so? xxx

  3. Richard Gilbert June 19, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    I'm sorry, Leslie. Beautiful post.

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