I suppose it’s not surprising that now, each time I visit the house I grew up in, my feeling of missing my Dad deepens. He is palpably still here; in the woodwork, the crappy furniture, the signs of disrepair, the glorious garden that rises and falls along steps and narrow pathways covered in brown oily leaves from the olive trees. Everywhere there are the skeletal remains of his inexpert handy-work; more than 50 years of sagging redwood structures and listing trellises. Everything is drenched with both his attentions and his disregard in equal measure. The shadow and light of his moods slant and scurry about the walls and through the windows, the property so christened in his personality that it will never be rid of him. The next owners will remodel, paint, scrape, scrap and scrub – but he’s in the foundations now, in the pipes, the joists, and the belly. No amount of cleaner can get him out of here. Sorry, Realtor. Apologies, Mr. and Ms. New Owners, whoever you may be someday. He conveys.
While he lived, his happiest days were in this house, and when it came time to die last August, he did it here, suddenly, after a brief decline of body and spirit. His wife – love of his life – is here still, looking for him in all the strange, unlikely places of the house. It is incomprehensible that he is not here with her, and so she simply fails to comprehend it. She demands to be taken from room to room, looking to see if perhaps he is napping somewhere. She is sure she’s just seen him – out in the garden, or passing into the pantry on the way to the bourbon. She beseeches us to go and look. In her enormous bed, when she closes her eyes, she can smell him in the dark, feel his weight next to her even though now the bed sheets are smooth on his side, his stacks of pillows gone. On the towering bedside bookcase are his watches, his hearing aides, coins, gum, eye drops, his memo books, a box containing paper clips and European coins, his thick Swiss Army knife. No surprise that she feels he’ll be back at any moment.
Each time I visit, a few more things on his side of the bed have been removed. The radio alarm clock is gone. The electric blanket control. The water glass. The bottles of Advil, aspirin, and stool softener. Most of the old dust is still there, which is of some comfort to me. The day the old house is dust-free is the day none of us is living here anymore.
Father’s Day is certainly the wily invention of a clever marketer - our family of dry-eyed skeptics has never doubted that. Nonetheless, on that day, we kids always happily phoned, or celebrated in some homemade way with our Dad. This year is our first without anyone to celebrate. I am not sure what will happen, but I suspect we will gather at the old house to eat and drink - typically more than we should - and raise toast after toast to the plaster, wood, walls and pipes where he still lingers, shedding his wit and hospitality on all present. And our Mom will twinkle, as she always does when he is near, and ask, again, if one of us won’t just nip out to the garden to see if Dad is there and ask if he’d like to come in and join the fun.