My father, may he rest in peace, would be 78 this coming Saturday. Brother Hrothgar and I will be going to the Bruins game together, more so I suspect to take quiet comfort in each other's company than to actually watch a hockey game.
Next month he'll have been gone for three years, and at some point you have to acknowledge that however wrenching his passing was, after a time you can't reasonably expect the old man to have survived the corrosive effects of time. Nobody on his side of the family lived to 78, and Dad wasn't exactly in robust good health.
If it sounds, by the way, that I'm trying to talk myself into tempering my emotions over his passing, yes, that is precisely what I'm trying to do. And so I guess it's in that vein that I want to tell you a story today, a story that precisely one person in the world knows besides me. The story has some drama to it but I swear to you, every word of it is true.
I was a horrible, willful, angry, contrarian, little punk bastard of a teenager. I was already well into a life-long love affair with the sound of my own voice and wasn't afraid to tell my parents that they were utterly full of shit, at every opportunity and with great vigor. My teen fuckishness came early; I began being a bastard at about 14 and was totally out of it by 17.
This particular evening I was maybe 16, and since it was a day that ended with a y, I was in an argument with my Dad. We were in my bedroom, nose to nose, first yelling at each other, then shortly thereafter, screaming. Dad was railing about what a fucking pigsty my room was (and it was); I was screaming about the unnatural constraints that he was putting on me. To my best recollection I was thinking that my father did not automatically deserve my respect, that he had to actually earn it from his little shitstain youngest son, inbetween the two jobs he was working to keep that son in Yoo-hoo and cable tv.
So there we were, screaming at each other from four inches away, not bothering to listen to each other, just pouring out rage and frustration and disappointment and exhaustion and angst with every screamed insult.
My memory of the event holds that it was a long-ish argument; we'd been going hammer and tongs for maybe five full minutes, which was an eternity in screaming-match time.
And then out of the clear blue sky something happened.
While Dad was screaming at me, I was somehow able to mentally take a step back and observe what was happening. I realized that this guy who was angry and hurt enough by his own son that he fell to screaming, was my father, my Dad, and I remembered just how much, even now, I loved him.
What the hell were we doing?
Mid-rant, mid-scream, and without a word, I grabbed him and hugged him tight, my smug gift of gab having wholly failed me. I just stood there, hugging him, crying a little bit behind his head.
And of course my Dad did the only thing an angry, frustrated father could do: he hugged me back, just as hard.
"Come on, Gary," he said, softly, as he patted my back. "We're both getting too old for this shit. Let's put this childish stuff away, ok?"
I nodded, still unable to speak, still unwilling to let him go. There we stood, hugging each other, neither of us wanting to break the spell.
I wish I could tell you that it all ended that day. Of course it didn't - there were fights and arguments to come, both in great plenty. I didn't stop being a willful teenage prick.
But that day is one of my most precious memories - the day I was able to see through the noxious black cloud of adolescence, just for a minute, and remember that I loved my Dad.