High school grad, the morning after. About this time in June, 100 years ago. Approximately.
Driving home along the lake with my friends Di and Cath. It’s 7 a.m. or so and we’ve been at an all-night beach party where we grads of the ‘70s did the stuff we were unpracticed at – like beer drinking. Cath’s driving, her judgment more trusted by parents than Di’s or mine.
A car passes in the other direction.
That was my Dad! I shriek. Uh oh.
We arrive home and Di’s mother is in our driveway, hands on hips. Was she mad? If Di’s easy going mom was angry, this wasn’t going to go well for me.
My own mother was on the porch, and I watched her retreat into the house, her fury and worry too great to be public.
Turned out neither mother saw an all night beach party as the rite of passage we assumed they might. I don’t know about Di (Cath was a guest at my house so had immunity), but the what for I got that morning was epic.
After my clumsy words of contrition – I didn’t think you’d be angry; I thought you knew I’d be out all night – I slunk off to bed. Not long after, I heard a car pull in, the front door open and close and a few hushed words in the kitchen. Dad came down the hall to my room and sat on my bed.
Your mother was worried and told me to go look for you. I didn’t want to embarrass you, so I looked in all the places I knew you wouldn’t be.
My teen journey was fraught with anxiety for my mother. I was a tricky teen. Born years after a daughter of the bobby socks era and a son who was a boy so that was different, I was coming of age when young people were gathering by the thousands at a place called Woodstock, fashions were more than thigh high and in San Francisco there was something called free love. This teen generation was rebellious and authority-defying in unfamiliar ways. New substances were making the rounds and drugs were taking out meteoric stars like sniper fire. It was scary territory for moms.
My dad, who would gather those he liked and those he loved in an embrace asking who’s the best looking guy in town and why am I?, understood youth. He trusted that smarts and good sense would keep me safe and alive.
When my sister was a teen, we lived by the lake. She hosted a beach party one spring evening and when her guests arrived, Dad observed an obvious deficiency: boys. Get in, he said to my sister and her pals. He fired up his grocery delivery truck and drove to town. Come on, fellas, he called to the local boys. He knew them all and they knew him. Get in. There’s a beach party at our place.
1982. Dad’s in hospital. Very ill. Mom meets me at the bus and together we go to his hospital room.
Hiiii, he says, eyes brimming with love. Come over here.
I have a question for you. I’m wondering. Do you need a wheelbarrow?
Did I need a wheelbarrow? Sure, I could use a wheelbarrow, Dad. Thank you. If wanting a wheelbarrow will go any distance to getting him well then, yes, I need a wheelbarrow.
Mom and I drive home later – my childhood home – and there, in the driveway, is an unfamiliar car. Beige. A 1974 Maverick.
Whose car is that? I ask.
That’s your wheelbarrow, said Mom. Dad thought you needed it.
He’s been gone more than half my life. Thirty-five Father’s Days. A spirit so effervescent and alive, his absence is still felt.
There are moments that I see and hear him bubbling through in his grandchildren and the greats he never met and it catches my breath.
Dad would’ve loved that, I’ll think. Dad would’ve loved you.