Hi, Dad —
You’ve been gone for nearly 12 years now, and I miss you guys every day. This is always a challenging time of year for me — Mom’s birthday, yours, with your anniversary and the anniversary of the murders in a few weeks. But the dates come around every year in their fashion, and I observe them.
During the sentencing hearing, I said that a son is supposed to admire his father, and that you had made that easy. And you did, and I still admire you. You were good at everything but arithmetic. Michael and I were the yin and yang of you — you knew that, saying that there were times you thought I might be too intellectual, and that you were damned sure that Mike was too physical. As usual, you were right. I fear I verge too often on being ineffectual, somewhere between Mr. Peepers and Edward Casaubon. But I know that ultimately you approved of the life I’ve made with Debbie and Emily.
It took me several months to order the grave markers for you and Mom. Part of it was my usual tendency toward disorganization, and part of it was that somehow buying the headstones — head plaques? You would have laughed about that — made everything more real, more official. In fact, I heard from some of your high school classmates, offering to buy the markers if we couldn’t afford it. Sorry — I know Mom would have been mortified. However, I had already ordered the markers, and they had already been placed by the time I got your classmates’ e-mails. As usual, I came in just under the wire, I guess.
But I’ve also managed to remember you and Mom in my stories. I think you’d get a kick out of having your work in a book sharing space with painters like Winslow Homer and Thomas Hart Benton; in fact, you’d probably laugh about it, the same way I laugh about my work appearing alongside the writers with whom I’ve been anthologized. But Dad, I think we both earned our way in.
You’d be so amazed by Emily. She’s almost done with grad school — and unlike me, she’s getting it done on time. She thinks of you guys a lot, too. When she came out, she asked me what you and Mom would have thought about it. I told her about Mr. Baker, and how he had been one of several surrogate fathers for you after your dad died, and how he was someone you had admired and loved. That gave her a lot of peace, I think, and I’m grateful to you for giving me that so I could share it with her.
You may remember the night of my Ph.D. graduation — Mom was ill, but you took us and some of my friends to dinner at Red Sun to celebrate. One of the people there was my friend Fred; he’s a professor out west now, at a college not too different from mine. When I introduced you to him, you said that you were excited to meet someone I described as brilliant. I thought that was funny, because Fred is brilliant, a much more elegant thinker than I am. But the funny part is that you have always been my definition of brilliancy, and more importantly, of wisdom. You fed my interest in facts, but you also fed my imagination and taught me to try to see things from perspectives other than my own. That serves me in all my work, in the classroom, in my reading, in my writing.
When I was at Western in 1982, the other guys envied the letters you’d send me. They were funny, smart, and entertaining — like the one you sent me using the Phoenician alphabet as a substitution cipher. I decoded it; the key was that you had signed it with a name we had used ironically: Daddles. I use that name with Emily occasionally.
It’s ironic — it’s your birthday, but I mainly think of the gifts you gave me. And I think you’d appreciate that. So happy birthday, Dad. I love you and I miss you, and I hope that I can eventually be a decent memorial to you and Mom.