Reaching for the ‘new normal’

Dad clip art

The putty knife pings against the siding, peeling off morsels of old paint. It’s a summery sound that reminds me of my dad. This is how he prepped the house for a new coat. I smile. Even if paint doesn’t stick quite as well to a weather-battered cabin as it does to a suburban house, I think: Dad is here, working through my hands.

Dad is missing his 14th Father’s Day. But he’s not missing. He still guides his first-born: Do it the right way now and you won’t have to redo it the right way later. Don’t rush. Stop to drink ice water. Take a nap with the cat.

This is “the new normal.” It’s how we settle after someone we love dies. It never will be normal, though, only new. As Father’s Day approaches, I avoid the ads for tools and men’s clothing, stay out of department stores, won’t even look at the steaks on sale for the week. I keep away from the lake, where dads fish with kids, and away from trails, so I don’t see them and won’t be reminded of what I can’t do anymore.

In the years when I lived at the beach, I sneaked down at the early low tide on Father’s Day to write his name and his death date in the sand, enclosing them in a heart. The writing faced the ocean, waiting for the waves to carry it into eternity. I sat and cried until they did, my catharsis of sorrow.

Time dried most of my tears. Now on Father’s Day, I drift subconsciously to doing Dad things. Last year, I waxed the Jeep, checked the tire pressure and topped off the fluids. This year, I started by repotting garden plants. Dad, who apprenticed as a gardener at Henry Ford’s estate, could make anything grow. I’ll finish by touching up the cabin’s paint. I may call my brother so we can remember funny things Dad used to do, and laugh, and talk about what we do that’s just like him.

No cake, no steak, and we can’t give Dad a hug, but little by little we discover and honor how much of him still dwells in us, and the “new normal” seems OK.

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What day is it?

June 2023
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