My 40-something brain regularly forgets that my sunglasses are perched on my head, can’t remember where I parked the minivan, and compels me to walk around my house mumbling to myself, “Now, why did I come in here again?” However, for some unknown reason, I have an incredibly detailed memory of my childhood.
I don’t have a perfect chronological recollection of my upbringing; instead, I have an almost photographic memory of certain mundane, seemingly unimportant occurrences like climbing my neighbor’s tree or eating dry Tang out of the jar with my licked finger. It’s as if I can transport myself back in time and re-experience all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings all over again.
Sometimes, if one looks at snapshots or home movies, one can artificially remember the events depicted. However, other than a couple shaky 8 mm films in my mother’s attic without a workable projector to watch them, and a few yellowing photo albums — with a clear preponderance of shots of my older brother, I might add – my family did not regularly memorialize events on film.
Therefore, my childhood memories are totally legit.
A couple weeks ago, I was at Walmart buying cards for Father’s Day. Our kids think their Dad is the greatest thing since Double Fudge Cookie Dough Blizzards, so they were happy to help. While they looked for cards, I figured I’d get one for my own father.
I read card after card, but could only mumble to myself, grimace and shake my head. None seemed to fit my complex circumstances. None described our complicated relationship. None communicated the vastly mixed emotions and unique bond that my father and I have.
The kids were done, so I sent them to find a gallon of milk to buy me more time. “Stop overthinking this,” I said to myself, “there must be something here that you can send to Dad.”
Before picking up another card, I tried to remember how I felt about my dad when I was a kid. Before my marriage to my Navy husband emptied my parents’ nest. Before my parents got divorced. Before my Dad resented me for not speaking to him for five years. Before I resented him for breaking up our family. Before we butted heads trying to form a new relationship. Before we had to forgive each other.
I thought back to a time when I was just a kid and he was just my Dad.
As the details of my childhood awoke from hibernation, vivid scenes began to flash in my mind. Dad taking out his false tooth (college football accident) on a family road trip, and talking to the tollbooth operator with a fake hillbilly accent, just to make my brother and me laugh. Dad letting me skip school to go with him to Pittsburgh for business, and me throwing up peanut butter cookies in the A/C vents of his Buick on the way.
Dad lying shirtless on the floor so my brother and I could draw on his back with ink pens while he watched golf tournaments. Dad lecturing my brother and me at the dinner table on report card day. Dad explaining to the police officer why he was teaching me how to do doughnuts in the icy natatorium parking lot after swim practice one night. Dad handing me an old tube sock filled with tools – a small hammer, screwdrivers, pliers – before I left for college. Dad nervously walking me down the aisle at my wedding.
One memory lead to another, and to another.
Then, my mind was seized by one final recollection, which ended my paralyzing over-analysis. I could see my father lifting me from the back seat of our station wagon. I had fallen asleep on the way home, but woke up when my parents pulled into the driveway. I kept my eyes closed and pretended, lazily allowing my arms to drape around my father’s neck and my head to lie upon his shoulder. I bobbed gently as he walked through the house and into my yellow bedroom, where he laid me in my mock brass bed, removed my shoes and tucked the covers around my chunky little frame.
I felt him kiss my forehead, and then, he stood there and waited a moment before he turned and left the room.
Suddenly, there at the Walmart, the Father’s Day cards on the rack had relevance.
My father raised me, protected me, cared for me, loved me.
I love and appreciate him.