to my father, on his 72nd birthday

tealight candle on human palms

My dad’s birthday was on March 10. Before I started doing the important inner work required for healing I would have likely been anxiously anticipating it all week, and likely would have spent most of the day in bed. But his birthday day came, and it was soft. Then it left with the same gentility, and I am forever thankful and deeply grateful it is so.

Now that he’s gone, I can say with certitude that we have a much better relationship than we did when he was alive. Now, without all the fleshy trappings of this human beingness, I’m able to talk to him in ways I never could when he was here. Now that he’s returned to Love, I’m able to remember his love in new ways.

Take for instance this picture of us riding The Beast, an old wooden roller coaster at King’s Island in Ohio.

circa summer ’94

This was taken right at the moment of the ride’s biggest drop. I wanted to put my hands up like the big kids did but I was afraid I was going to fall out of my seat. Thinking I’d be sneaky, I gripped the back of my seat. Unbeknownst to me, my cowardice would be captured in this pic.

Despite that, there are two things about this pic that fill me with delight.

The first is the guy right behind the childhood version of me absolutely losing his mind.

The second I didn’t discover until almost 30 years after this pic had been taken. I have it on my ancestral altar and I spend time every morning and night greeting my ancestors and basically thanking them for getting me here.

It was during one such veneration when I noticed something new about the pic. I’d always looked at this photo with a kind of embarrassment. I remember with striking clarity thinking I was being oh-so-sneaky grabbing the back of my seat. I wanted to have fun, and let go, but my worry kept me holding on. Maybe I was feeling particularly loving that day because for the first time I noticed my dad’s arm was stretched across me, holding me down.

And I don’t remember that. I remember the fear and the smug cleverness and the eventual devastation at seeing my ruse revealed. But I have no memory of my dad protecting me.

Kneeling before my ancestral altar, looking at the old faded photograph, I realized I never had any reason to worry. He had me.

And I know he still does.

I dreamt about him two weeks before his birthday. In it, I was at my friend’s birthday bash watching a documentary homeless people.

(Because nothing says celebration like watching a documentary about how our capitalist society is failing half a million Americans.)

Anyway, he was featured in the end credits. He was one of the people who had been given a second chance through some program. He was going to turn his life around.

I woke up sad, and I realized that he may have been homeless before he died and I wouldn’t have known. I’ve briefly mentioned before how he sustained a brain injury that tore our family apart. He had tried to reach out a few times before he died, but I hadn’t done enough of that inner healing to meet him halfway.

So right after waking, in that ephemeral place between sleep and awake, I did some healing work. I sent that version of me in the dream all the love that I could. This is also a neat trick to try if you’re resolving past trauma. Sometimes I feel the love come right back to me in the present. Then, I go back to sleep, or go about the rest of my day.

But lying there in bed at 3:30 in the morning I didn’t feel anything coming back.

That made me sad in a different way.

So I tried again, putting all thoughts of me being a failure at loving myself out of my mind. It was like reaching out expecting to touch the vastness of air and bumping into a cold concrete wall before ever fully extending your arm.

I stopped, mostly because I didn’t want to make myself sadder. I took solace in the fact that I was at least keeping up with my practice, and even though I didn’t feel my love come back, I knew that it would at some point.

Then I remembered another part of the dream.

Right before the version of me in the dream realized he was watching his dad, he was transported into the documentary. The sun was setting, and it was warm like autumn. He was uphill a ways from his dad, and as the golden hour shone on the crushing sadness of loss a haiku came to him.

Lying in my bed, I wrote it down:

i could be held
in one hundred hugs
but their arms will never be yours

Happy (belated) birthday, dad.

Much love to you all. <3

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