Fear of Fatherless
I used to think nothing could top my fear of dying. On most nights after I've tucked myself in, I lie awake staring at the shapes on my ceiling, or sometimes I stare into darkness, not being able to differentiate open eyes from closed. Either way, I'm imagining nothingness. Emptiness. Loss of purpose. Loss of presence. Loss of memory. Loss of soul. Loss of thought. What comes after? What if there's nothing? But I can't recall a "before." Reasoning. Rationalizing. Questioning my religion. Terrified. For years, these nightly thoughts shook me to near-tears. Until recently. The fear of my end got bumped down to the second slot. What about my father's? What will I do when... I try not to think about it. But I know one day, he'll have to leave me, and knowing that hurts.
Growing up, all of my closest friends had fathers. Dads. Whether I met them or not, heard fond memories of them or not, the male parents were all there. Between picking us up from school, granting permission for sleepovers and pissing us off daily, they were as normal a part of life as sunlight and breath.
But each year that we grew older, the fathers were plucked from lives one by one like the petals of a daisy. They became pinned pictures to mirrors and refrigerator doors. Centerpieces for obituaries and church fans. Facebook pictures and In Memoriam statuses. Willingly discarded memories and afterthoughts. Even some who were ghosts from the get-go.
And there's my dad. Here is my dad. My devoted father, whom I love and know loves me, a fixture in my daily goings on.
The one who I can count on to tell me I'm holding the camera at the wrong angle. "You're making the subject look too short. You have to crouch," he always says. And other times, the one who takes my portfolio and pulls up my website on his iPhone to show his coworkers and friends the "wicked" photos I took last.
The one who complains about how little sleep he gets, but stays up into the night hunched over in front of his computer editing photos he took eons ago, that people will probably never see, squinting into the glow of the monitor. The one I hear grumbling about the pain in his eyes, head and heels, but still tells me to call him when I'm out 'til 3 am in Brooklyn on New Year's because he knows I have a slim chance of snagging a cab back to Queens.
The one who faithfully goes out into the cold to get Chinese food from Kim's even though I nag him about how terrible it is for him. The one who cooks banana fritters, boiled okra, ground beef and chicken soup sometimes when he feels like it, but insists I come watch my mother cook in the kitchen so that I can help out when she's tired instead of just waiting to be fed.The one who tells me to scrape out every. single. grain. of. rice. from my plate into the garbage because if I don't, we'll have to pay a plumber $200, even though we have a sink strainer. The one who goes through an audible "checklist" anytime we leave the house to make sure nothing gets left behind. The one who my mom, sister and I jokingly dub frantic because some of his old, OCD-esque habits die hard. The one whose "miserable resting face" and eyes-that-squint-up-when-I-smile-too-hard that I inherited.
The one I confide in when I feel stagnancy in my career, only to be met with promise that everything will fall into place and that my creative endeavors are leading me in the right direction. The one who my mother quarrels with daily, but will sit up in bed with talking like old friends and holding hands when we all go shopping up at Woodbury Commons. The one I hope will tell me he approves of my wedding dress, then walk with me down the aisle as I proudly debut it to my husband-to-be.
The one who tells my mom, sister and I the same wild, semi-unfortunate stories of his childhood in Jamaica. Tales of his lost brother Azed. Explanations of how a stale piece of hard-dough bread cut his head. How he'd lick old batteries with his friends just for the hell of it, but that the one time he dared to try an 8-volt was bad idea. His younger self coming alive as his patois thickens and he revisits his memories. Hard laughter and loss of breath. We all still laugh even though we know the endings to each anecdote. It's the moment. And at that moment, we as a family are all happy. Entertained by each others' company. Whole.
But there are some dark clouds. Times where it seems he complains more than anything else, mad at the booby traps of the world, mad at capitalism, mad at circumstance. As if he's ungrateful for what we have. I understand that it feels like we don't have much sometimes. That we don't have it easy. Truth be told, we have a lot. We have each other and I find comfort in that. I worry that he will become numb to that, and the memories made with us will take a backseat to the difficult life America promised in the fine print of its "Land of Opportunities" sales pitch.
I fear that whatever father-snatching forces hovering in the atmosphere that breed bitter offspring and broke my friends families will come for us, too. They'll take him away from me without so much as a warning. That he will be gone, too. And I would join the fatherless.
During the weekdays, I watch him run out of the house in the darkness to catch the 2 a.m. bus to work. "Lock the door for me?" he asks me before taking off wildly down the street. He looks silly rushing down our quiet block with a long umbrella, bulky jacket and camera bag, so I chuckle to myself. But the laughter cuts short when I remember that some of my friends can't do this even if they wanted to, and I say a prayer asking for traveling mercies as I push the door closed, waiting a few more moments to make sure he's down the block safely before I twist the lock. Then again in bed before the nightmares of turning to dust come chasing after me, bidding me to toss and turn for an hour before slipping out of consciousness.
I'm tired, I'm worried, I'm terrified and I can't shake any of it. But for now -- thank you God -- I'm not fatherless.