I did not know my father well enough to know whether I am anything like him. He was known for his sense of humor, & I like to think I have a bit of that in me. I know that he didn't like big dogs or tomatoes. I remember how much he loved "Home Improvement," & how he teased me for being unable to make that guttural throat noise that was Tim the Toolman Taylor's signature. I know that he once received three speeding tickets in three counties in one day & that he didn't like motorcycles because one of his childhood friends died riding one. I know that he could identify a car by everything but color just by seeing the shape of it underneath a tarp. I know he had funny nicknames for neighbors he secretly disliked & that carrot cake was his favorite dessert. I know that he had a handshake strong enough to be the subject of a eulogy & that he was my uncle's partner in viewings of Sylvester Stallone films. I know that he always wore a foam fish head on Halloween & that he once came to my Odyssey of the Mind competition in a wheelchair rather than miss it altogether. I know that when his high school friends were playing varsity sports, he was working an after-school job to support his family & that he later dropped out of college to financially support his alcoholic father.
I don't think about him as often as I ought to, but I feel his absence daily & deeply. I think of him when I see a shiny, old car drive down the road, top down, with a happy old man at the wheel. I think of him when I eat at Swenson's, the local drive-in where he took me after dance practice for a grilled cheese & an ice cream sundae. I think of him when I could benefit from fatherly advice but am unable to identify what that might have looked like, had he lived long enough to provide it. I wonder what he would have thought of adult-aged me & what sort of father-daughter relationship we might've had. Of course, I like to think we would have been close, but who can say?
I can recognize that I do not know who my father was, not really. But I know that he was a good man who didn't deserve the end he met - does anyone deserve to waste away like that, to succumb to cancer & leave behind a young wife & small child? Yes, I know that he was a good man who, 16 years after his death, is missed every day, in every way. His headstone reads, "One of the good guys," & that's exactly how I like to imagine him.
"A song for a heart so big, God wouldn't let it live."