Off Kilter

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Today is my dad’s birthday, and quite possibly the anniversary of his death. Don’t worry, I’m not going to write anything maudlin — after 26 years of mourning his passing I am over most of the truly tempestuous bits of grief. I like this picture of my mom and dad – they look young and happy and full of hope. It’s also one of the few shots I’ve seen where I can map my physical features to both my mom and my dad, and see the strong genetic connection.

I recently went to visit my cousin and family in my dad’s hometown, and even got to spend a few moments in the house he lived in when I was a child. It was sad and also a little creepy, being surrounded by all those childhood memories from 30 years ago. The place itself seemed smaller than I remember it, but then again I bet most places seem pretty big when you’re five.

I wonder sometimes if my father would seem smaller too, if he were alive today and I could meet him as an adult. As a child, he seemed larger than life — with his silly puns and his almost manic mood swings and his desperate need for love. I loved the idea of him, even if it was sometimes hard to love the man himself. He was – nearly impossible but true – both the best possible and worst possible father a girl could have.

He taught me by example some important qualities in life – to be responsible, predictable, value your health, save your money. I learned these lessons not by what he did, but what he didn’t do. There were many things about my father that formed the central cautionary tale of my life. My watchwords for success were fundamentally different because of the lessons I learned from him when I was very young.

The positive gifts he gave were just as fundamental. He taught me to dream, and he taught me how to see the world from an off-kilter perspective. He was the master of flipping arguments on their heads, of advocating for the underdog, for looking at an issue sideways rather than dead on. He was artistic and eloquent and passionate, and I hope I take those qualities from him.

He’s been a central theme of my life, even in his absence. His presence looms large, even though I suspect his physical presence might not be so large if he were actually living today. It’s the open questions, and the inability to put them to rest, that make me sad today.

Happy birthday, Dad. May you rest in peace…and even though our relationship is complicated, I hope you know you’re loved.

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