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  • Writer's pictureAlan Allinger

Not Only on Birthdays




 

My father showed up at my house on his birthday, which isn’t unusual except that he died in 2020. He was driving a 1934 Ford with an exceptionally detailed front grill.

“It’s a really nice day,” he said. He looked happy and relaxed. “Would you have time to go for a ride?”

“Yeah. I’d like that,” I said. We took the lovely old sedan out for a spin on an unnaturally quiet country road, one that traveled between my world and his.

“How’ve you been?” he asked, which is something I only remember him asking me during the last three or four years he spent on the planet. I don’t recall him doing that for the first five or six decades of my life. 

“Well,” I said, “you remember how it goes, Dad. Being an adult isn’t nearly as much fun as they make it look like on tv.” He laughed, then, because he did remember how it went.

“Yes,” he agreed. “People expect you to have answers, achievements, and knowledge.” I nodded in agreement. He wasn’t wrong. He rarely was.

 The old automobile chugged steadily along, carrying us beside endless broad fields of the deepest spring green. We weren’t going fast, but that was all to the good, because the springs in those old cars were abysmal. Both the kidney jouncing and sciatic nerve pinching were a distraction from what was meant to be an enjoyable journey.

Dad always made an appearance on his birthday, but I wanted this visit to last longer than usual. In this moment of our lives, we both had plenty of time. I watched his profile as the Ford passed a well-remembered, still-listing green and white signpost that told us we were three miles from town.

Maybe, I thought, maybe he did ask me how things were going, and I just never heard him. Or I wasn’t comfortable responding honestly, then.

Yeah. Maybe he figured I’d simply tell him if there were problems, but I couldn’t- not really. I never wanted to be a bother. If you’re reading this now, then your someone’s kid, and you know how that feels.

“What did I used to tell you,” I asked. “In our annual long-distance phone call, when you asked me how things were going?” He smiled at me, and then waved to a rugged looking farmer that appeared beside us, chugging through the field of newly grown cotton on a battered old tractor. I couldn’t tell if that was another deceased dad heading out for a visit, or if there was really a farmer there.

“You always said things were fine,” he said.

I nodded, unsurprised. That was my own fault. I had figured out how to live with that, partly by trying to get my own kids not to say it if it wasn’t true.

Dad and I talked for the next three miles, sharing a couple of nice memories. I began to tell him about what I was doing these days, but we inevitably drew near to the crossroads where our existences diverged. He would have to depart my world, and return to that place held in my memory, anchored by hopes and dreams.

“You know,” I said, “You can stop by anytime. You don’t have to wait for your birthday to come looking for me.”

“I know that,” he said with quiet decisiveness, ever the professor. Always the smartest person in the room on so many levels. “But I also know it’s a gut punch at the end of each visit, when you’re still in the thick of your life and I’m gone.” He eased over to the side of the road, and the dividing line between the sunlit world and the twilight one was very clear, just ahead where the stop sign waited in warning.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” I admitted. “Thinking of you makes me happy but it does hurt when I let you go. I miss you. I wish you were still here.” He nodded, smiling in his understanding- dad-sort-of-way that comes only with hard-won age and experience.

“Sometimes I do too,” he said. “But that thing you mentioned, about only visiting on my birthday… that’s the day I can control things, so I do. I visit.” His clear, aqua-colored eyes held mine. “You can ask me to visit anytime, on any day, and I’ll show up, but that asking part is up to you.”

He was right.

“Gut punch,” I said quietly, and he hugged me tightly before letting me out of the car. I closed the door gently, and we waved at one another as he put the car into gear. He spoke again as he pulled away, heading for the stop sign.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know. All of us are our parent’s children.”

 

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