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Irrevocable Changes

Dad Mountains Sure, maybe it's just because I miss him. Or maybe it's that they really do have the same eye color. Or perhaps it's simply that my little daughter with her jowly cheeks and practically-bald head actually looks like an old man. Whatever the case, sometimes I look at Veronica and I get a flash-sense of my father.

It's surely not impossible that she could resemble him in spirit or even features, but the apathetic 17-year old in me tends to discard any such notions, insisting that it's just that I miss the man. I have to admit though that if there's anyone in my family whom I would want Veronica to be like it would be my father.

And I do miss him. Profoundly.

My father was 57 when I was born. He and my mother had been married for three years. She was forty and they had met late in life and had both been married twice before each other. My father had three grown children who were in their thirties and my mother had none.

My Dad grew up in Michigan during the depression. He was a bomber pilot in WWII, a prisoner of war in Germany and he came home a changed man. He made a lot of mistakes in his early life, wasn't always a great father or a great husband and he tended toward the self-important. But by the time he met my mother, he'd owned up to a lot of those faults and was well on his way to being an incredibly good man.

My mother helped him with that. She demanded that from him. And he from her. They made each other better people. The best marriages do that, I think.

My father loved to tell me how it was him who convinced my mother to have a child. He would lean back in his chair, swirling a glass of scotch and peering out over the bridge of his nose at me, his daughter, as he would tell me that he knew, just knew, that having a baby would irrevocably change my mother's life. 

Thinking back on those moments with him, the resolution in his voice, as my own little daughter entwines her fingers in my hair, I can't help but gasp with emotion for this great gift he gave her. And how wild that he would be up for having another child after he had already raised three.

But here I am.

It wasn't until after my mother died that he and I truly became close and that I really came to know him for the man he was. Oh, I loved him so much. He was such a good man by then. When my mother died I was eighteen and he was 77. We made an unlikely pair, but sometimes those are the best kinds of anything.

About a year after my mother died was when he moved to California from Atlanta, where we had all lived as a family. I was living in New York by then but I flew out to visit him often.

It was funny to see him living alone. Sometimes it was sad but a lot of the time it was just interesting. My mother had been such a force, dominating the household in all areas. It was her taste in art and furniture that filled the rooms. It was her cooking that found our table and her hobbies that took precedence over my father's.

He was living in Garden Grove,  a patch of Southern California about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles. He was familiar with the area having lived in Pasadena in the 1950s and the climate was good for his health. The modest, 2 bedroom condominium he took over from his deceased sister suited all his needs and was the place where I stayed and thought of as home in a way, when I visited from New York.

The condominium was in a little gated complex, a pool at its center, with a plethora of young families living all around him. In the mornings and afternoons the place was noisy with the sound of 7 and 8 year olds going to and from school. My dad often kept the front door open out of loneliness, and he would wave to the families from his perch at the kitchen table where he scanned the LA Times and sorted through catalogues.

When he moved into the condo he got rid of my aunt's outdated, avocado green sofas and heavy curtains and replaced them with slick blinds and a set of black leather couches. He hung modern art on the walls and put up large, framed photos of my mother everywhere. He even picked up a couple of lava lamps for the credenza, their place there by the front door never ceasing to make me laugh.

One month, after I'd sent him some essay I wrote in a college creative writing class about not having a home to go home to after my mother's death, I arrived for a visit to find that he had completely redecorated the guest room. A sign hung on the door that said, "Claire's Room" and inside he had put a pretty feminine comforter on the bed and had dug all my old stuffed animals out of storage to put in an armchair in the corner.

I was also surprised by how much my father suddenly began to cook. He looked up recipes on the NY Times website on a regular basis and was always trying out something new on me or his neighbors. He made apple pies and marbled breads, he made meaty lasagnas too and he even canned a bunch of strawberries one summer. Those seven years we had together after my mother died were unexpected and as each one slipped by I found myself more grateful for this time allotted to us, even if I wasn't always up for admitting that it was my mother's death that granted it.

I loved my father, loved him like I hadn't loved anyone before. I think as children we all love our parents unconditionally, but as we grow older and come to know them for the people we are we get to love them in a way of our choosing. It's a different kind of love than the obvious one we first feel. I never really got past that adolescent love I felt for my mother, not with her dying before I escaped adolescence.

I've been thinking about my father a lot lately. And maybe it really is because sometimes I look into Veronica's eyes and see his. She has the most remarkable blue eyes, but they're not the same blue as mine (a greenish-grey-blue or Greg's, a pale seagreen blue) and when I look into them long enough I get this inexplicable flash of my father.

But maybe it's something else entirely.

This morning I slipped quietly out of bed, careful not to jostle her milky, warm little body still curled under the covers and I tiptoed into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. It suddenly struck me that a little over a year ago I was waking up in the mornings with a feeling of ennui, with an unexplainable flatness. My life, even with all its love and adventure still felt dulled and heavy.

And I thought about that again this morning, after she had awoken and I was holding her in my arms, her little hands clasped around my neck, her face nuzzling into my neck as I spoke in soothing morning tones, my cheek brushing against her soft, downey head. The flatness has gone away. It's been gone for a long time. Life, these days, feels the opposite of flat.

And it was then that I knew, just knew, that my father, wherever he is, is happy for me.


  1. I would say… even though I am far from being a parent… your moment of today is the one that your parents are proud of. Knowing that your kids are finding their happiness would complete the ultimate happiness for the parents. My heart is filled with this warm feeling. Thank you, Claire, for sharing, as always it has been.

    Comment by Sarah Chang on November 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm

  2. Oh, thanks Sarah!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on November 3, 2009 at 4:06 pm

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