Dear Dad

We were never intimates.
Men in our family never talked much. Vulnerability is weakness so we stuck to safe topics. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no animosity either. If there was a need, we did our best, but
we were never intimates.

After twenty five years and then some,
memories are hard to come by,
a comfortable shirt now tattered, faded,
no longer useful but priceless,
more mirage than accurate depiction.

I remember watching the Tigers on TV, wondering whether they had a chance. We never made it to a live game but I’ll always be a fan because it reminds me of you.

I remember camping trips. Driving north to the UP, just you and me, twice a year to find brook trout, listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on the radio. Once in the Spring before black flies hatched. Once in the Fall before snow flew.

I remember fishing. Teaching me how to cast, how to reel in the fighters. Walking along stream edges or floating downriver in a canoe, working tree falls, carved out banks. Or sitting all afternoon in the fishing boat on Long Lake, casting for perch and walleye.

I remember hunting. Getting up before dawn to make our way into the woods. Coming home after dark. Teaching me where to find deer, where rabbits hide, how to lead partridge with a shotgun. Teaching me how to clean game, then doing it for me so often that today I’d be lost if I had to skin a rabbit.

I remember campfires. Watching for shooting stars, staring into flames, wondering what the future held. Eating today’s fried catch. That would have been the time to talk of important things, intimate things. I’m not sure what we talked about, if we talked about anything.

I was sleeping when the phone rang. Never good news at three a.m. When the world began to wake, I called work. I wouldn’t be in this week. The long drive home didn’t seem real until those last thirty miles when I realized you wouldn’t be there. I cried then, my hands gripping the steering wheel so hard they went numb.

I see you in your waders, hiking along the stream, seeking the best spot.
Collapsing. Then gone.

Somehow I made it through that week now banked deep in the fog of time and grief. I don’t remember exactly what the preacher said. Probably something about faithful church treasurer, firefighter, wife, four children, loves the outdoors. All expected signposts on a road lived well before it drops off abruptly, bridge to the future washed away without warning.

I do remember the honor guard of pallbearers: firemen, comrades, escorting your casket out of the sanctuary, saluting as it slid into the hearse. Firehouse emptied, bright red trucks anchored our pilgrimage to the cemetery for the final farewell.

Mom was pissed months afterward that you dared leave her alone. It took her a long time to cry but I cried easy in your absence. A dam had been breached. I remember Nixon’s funeral a year later. A crook I never knew, barely thought about, who mattered to me not one bit – and I cried like a little baby. Life, anyone’s life, seemed so precious. Even my own.

The breaking of that dam
let loose more than tears.
You never knew I was gay.
Hell, I didn’t admit it to myself until
the breaking of that dam.
Another three years before I told someone else.
Dams get rebuilt.
Because of that I’m thankful
for a final lesson:
the breaking of that dam
is necessary every so often,
but never rebuild quite so high or thick as the last one.
Where would I be today if not for
the breaking of that dam?

I’ve never been back to your grave. I tried once. Confused, I didn’t venture deep enough into the cemetery. That must be a metaphor for something, a bottle of milk I’m afraid to open out of fear it’s gone bad.

We were never intimates,
or so I’ve always thought.

©2018 Kenneth W. Arthur