Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 73. I imagine him the same way – slower, in a chair, a sweater tied around his neck, my mom, rounding into 60 buzzing around, clearing dishes away, bringing him carpet samples for a new investment rental, the one she bought alone instead, painting the upstairs bedroom floors a type of “colonial periwinkle.”
For the first time my mom emailed us to commemorate it, ending with, “During our time together – your Father shared his best qualities with us and we are so grateful to him for our time together!”
I think about our last family vacation, Oren, Evan’s new boyfriend, sitting with us around the old cabin’s dining table, asking us to tell stories about Baba.
“Evan, obviously has told me many stories about him, and I can tell how much love everyone must have for him through the love I see you all have for each other.”
“He was so cute,” Evan says.
“Yeah, it was hard to get mad at him,” Julian says from across the table.
I look Oren in the eye, leaning forward slightly, my chest touching the edge of the table where I sit at the head, “No it wasn’t.”
“Classic,” Julian says.
“What? Baba was a great man, obviously, he led an amazing life, but we can’t pretend he wasn’t one of the most difficult people, I at least, will ever meet. He was extremely hard to please, very opinionated, old school. It doesn’t mean we didn’t love him, but we don’t have to forget the other sides of him just because he’s gone.”
Evan smiles at me while Oren nods. He teaches non-violent communication, he’s not going to invalidate my feelings. In that moment I feel the curtain everyone else has drawn around their memories. The faded light, the forgiveness, the forgetfulness even, maybe.
I take a sip of my water and I’m outside my work, reading this email again, trying not to cry in front of people walking by on the corner, in front of the dog lying next to her owner’s feet at the table next to mine.
Were those his best qualities? Is that the right question to ask of anyone you have loved and called family? I think it’d be better to accept that those were their best qualities, but also their worst, that hopefully if we were close enough to them we saw them all, that we saw all that was Baba, not just the best parts, the parts most easily marketed to the hippy ex-best friends he first met in America, the retail workers charmed by his accent and generosity.