Some dates have weight, and for me, September 14th is a heavy one. On 9/14/2012, I arrived on Orcas Island, where I lived alone in a magical wonderland and wrote Aret. And on 9/14/2020, Dad died in his sleep, setting my world off its axis with his sudden, permanent absence.
The juxtaposition of those two dates reminds me of Francis Weller’s guidance to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, which is also how I try to balance memories of Dad. For each that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes, I try calling to mind one that makes me laugh.
My sister and her two boys were visiting my parents for the weekend. While the boys were goofing around during bath time, out of the clear blue sky, 4-year-old Henry called my dad “Mister Buttface.” Upon seeing the resultant, terrifying look on Dad’s face, Henry cried, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” And that should’ve been the end of it, right? But no. On his way out of the bathroom a few minutes later, Henry called, “Oh, Graaaaaampy!” When Dad turned around, naked Henry made brazen eye contact, smacked his little butt three times, and dashed out of the room.
I arrived in the aftermath of this incident, and when I asked Dad how he felt about the unexpected, unprovoked attack from his normally sweet grandson, he gazed into the distance and replied, “I’m just trying to imagine what my grandfather would’ve done if I’d ever called him Mister Buttface.”
Dad had a framed photo of the two of us on his dresser, and now it’s on mine. Soon after he died, I had a necklace made from one of the pennies he’d kept in his penny loafers, and when it’s not in use, it hangs on a corner of the picture frame. Each morning, I lift the necklace from the frame and say, “Mornin’, Dad.” And at the end of the day, I return it and say, “Goodnight, Dad.” Sometimes I share news that would’ve been of interest to him, like, “We’re meeting up with Mom to celebrate her birthday,” or, “The boys start school today.”
This evening, to balance out the weight of September 14th, I think I’ll change things up a bit. As I place the necklace back on the frame, I’ll look down at Dad’s smile and say, “Goodnight, Mister Buttface.”