How many of your birthdays did I miss? Yet you missed none of mine. Even when I wasn’t there for it, you were. I saved all your cards, somehow a card written in your hand was special to me. As though dads weren’t totally expected to show sentimentality thus, and you doing so meant something. Plus I love that you wrote in tiny capitals. There is something about it, how it gives weight to each letter, not just the first one, which I appreciate.
I liked making you cards. I liked writing poems in them, they always said basically the same thing.
I’m glad you’re my dad.
How fortunate for this budding poet that so many things rhyme with dad.
You saved all my cards. Mum gave them back to me after you died. You printed and saved all the emails I wrote too, the first time I went to Paris. I don’t know why your sentimentality surprised me, but it did.
I remember the first time I was aware that you would mute the television when I practiced the piano. Not just during the commercials, either. That probably should have been a clue.
How many of your birthdays did I spend away, at festivals, events, busy, so busy, nearly too busy for anything but a quick call. To let you know that I remembered what day it was. That whatever was happening, whatever drunk fireworkedoverdone shout it out via massive speaker array to prove… what, exactly? That we are patriotic party animals? nonsense was occurring at the time, I knew in my heart what today actually meant.
Happy birthday, papa.
Not much more than that.
But that last one. The one I came home for. I was living in Berlin with that sweet boy and I talked about coming home for soundwave, for your birthday. And he insisted I should, because “It’s your dad!”
And so I did, and the return ticket got messed up because I asked a friend to use his credit card to book it, and it was a German site and he didn’t realize it was june 26-29 instead of june26-july29 and customs was certainly suspicious why I’d be flying back to Germany 3 days after I landed, and that was the first moment I realized there had been a mistake.
I was tempted to kiss you hello and then wave goodbye three days later, sure that my life was in Europe at that point. But no. I came back for your birthday. I came back for soundwave.
We went ziplining. Your 72nd birthday and we went ziplining. Why did it take me so long to discover what a daredevil you were in some ways?
You went skydiving for your 60th birthday. I missed that one too.
But not this one.
I remember receiving an invitation to a party in Vancouver. I was on the verge of asking you to drive me to the ferry. On your birthday. And I knew that you would. I knew that you’d be sad, but you’d understand. I spent so many years running away, it was a default for me. It still is, sometimes.
But I stayed. I’m so grateful I did.
And we had barbecue, we had beers. And after dinner, the yearly tradition of tequila shared. You and Barry, and a blue bottle he brought from Costa Rica. The womenfolk gather themselves up, and head inside, leaving you to it.
For some reason, the two of you invited me to stay.
We drank that entire bottle between the three of us. I wish I could remember in exacting detail, everything that was said. It doesn’t matter though because I remember how it felt. I remember how it felt to finally be there, for the entirety of your birthday, for the first time in a long time.
It felt perfect.
We laughed and we talked about the future and the world and our places in it, and you rejoiced that I had managed to stop being such a silly person with her head firmly ensconced in her own ass and had turned out to be a pretty good kid, all in all. That you thought I was going to be just fine. And I laughed and told you it was all your fault.
Which, ironically, was the thing I said to you on the phone less than a year later, as you lay dying in a hospital bed in Victoria while I was hustling to get there. That everything good about me is all your fault. You told me you loved me, and that was the last coherent thing I ever heard you say.
As far as last ones go, both that birthday and those words are about the best thing ever. I’m so grateful for all of it.
Happy birthday, papa.