Of memories and moving on: how our fathers continue to inspire us even after they’ve gone.
(Original post 6/5/18 on authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.com)
I remember the accident as if it was yesterday.
I had been living in Washington, D.C. for three years. That particular morning, a Saturday, I was running late for work. It was a gray, wet morning at the edge of Winter. Heavy rain, like molten white gold, fell from an aluminum sky as I blazed along at 80 mph. A gray car merged onto the roadway from the right, then proceeded to move into my lane without signaling. The car was moving so slowly it looked like it was moving backwards.
I pressed the brakes hard, pumping steadily with increasing pressure, my right hand tight on the gearshift ready to down shift. Realizing collision was inevitable, I glanced at the speedometer: 60. The impact sent my little car spinning towards the concrete divider separating west-bound traffic from east. The world seemed upside down. I remember thinking, I’m going to die and I never got to be friends with my father. I glanced up at the sky, oddly unafraid, and I swear I saw the hand of God reach down and stop my car from spinning.
Fast forward a few months: Father’s Day, 1988. I moved back to Philadelphia, in large part to be closer to my parents who lived in the Bronx. What I had thought would be my last thought haunted me. By being physically closer, I hoped to befriend my father. I don’t know if the thought of losing me, shook my father as much as I had been shaken, but I know after I got back to Philly, I started walking his way and he started walking mine.
Sometimes we walked in rain, sometimes we walked with the sun on our backs. We gained a lot of ground because we both gave a little and learned along the way that no road is too long when you meet in the middle. When he died 29 years later, I lost not just my father, but my friend.
My older brother told me a story about Dad kissing him after commencement when he graduated from Syracuse University. Dad had, of course kissed us before, when we were younger, but for some reason that kiss stood out in his memory because it recalled dad’s pride and happiness, two things he didn’t demonstrate often.
I don’t recall Daddy ever saying he was proud of me—of any of us. He wouldn’t have done that any more than he would have said he was ashamed of us. But his pride was unmistakable. One day at the hospital, he introduced me to one of his nurses. “This is my son. He lives in Philadelphia,” he said, “He’s a writer.”
My brother told me he remembers Dad’s graduation kiss every time he kisses his own son, Max. Max, my parents’ only grandchild.
Earlier this year, my brother, Max’s father told me he and his wife were expecting a second child. My first thought was oh man Daddy would have loved that. I did a quick calculation in my head and realized this new baby had been conceived while Daddy was dying; as one life was winding down, another was beginning.
We buried Daddy on November 15, 2017. As we drove away from the cemetery, I thought I am a fatherless man. Now, six plus months later, as Father’s Day approaches—our first without our Dad—I know I will never be fatherless, for daddy will always be with me, in the lessons he taught me, in the love he gave me so unconditionally, in my brother’s gentle kiss on his son’s cheek. Because of his influence, we, my brothers, and I will be the stand in for the father himself. I know that I will never be the man Daddy was, but I can aspire to be. In that effort, he remains my inspiration, my father.
My only remaining question is, who will be proud of me now?
Larry Benjamin is an award-winning LGBT author who tells rich stories with vivid characters determined to find – or make – their own place in the world. Larry lives on Henry Avenue with his husband Stanley and their two dogs, Riley and Atticus. Follow WriterLarry on Twitter and AuthorLarryBenjamin on Facebook.
Read Larry’s full essay (and lots of other great stuff) at authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.com.