By: Laurenne Sala
This week was shocking. So many friends and strangers and bloggers and dads reached out to me to let me know how much they related to my Father’s Day tribute. Or how much they cried. Or how much it made them feel (It’s here if you haven’t seen it).
And hearing all this is really the most wonderful thing. Knowing that my words have moved someone to tears is astounding. And unreal. And feels so fucking good. That’s really my life’s goal– to make people feel something.
But I have a confession to make. I feel an obligation to tell you that that post took me 14 years to write. Not literally. I wasn’t sitting at a desk for fourteen years with a pen poised over paper. Then you would have probably never met me, and I would either be really fat or malnourished. But writing that piece required that I accept everything about my dad, which took a while. Accepting everything about someone is like inviting everyone on the entire street to your party. And being okay with the homeless people who show up and raid your vegetable crisper. You have to truly accept things that you may not like. Or things that scare you. And the hardest part is that you have to admit to yourself that your way is not the only way. TOUGH stuff. For me, it’s easier with dead people. I have yet to accept any boyfriend without requesting minor changes in personality and character. Yes, honey, I swear I love you but really you should be more motivated and also like the things I like.
Parents are even harder to accept. You have an idea of who you want them to be, and when they don’t turn out like that, you have to just swallow it. I didn’t imagine my dad would be gay. But I accepted it. And just when things were cool, he up and committed suicide. Great. Hadn’t imagined that either.
I gotta hand it to him– the man was an ace at surprises.
When someone commits suicide, your entire perception of him is stained. Every good memory is accompanied by flashes of death or guilt or panic. For a long time, I would see a size 15 New Balance sneaker, and I would remember my father. And I would smile. And then immediately my brain’s channel would flip to him dead on his bed waiting for someone to find him. And then I’d undoubtedly remember his neighbor saying that he only knew my father was upstairs decomposing after he’d cleaned out his refrigerator and realized that the horrible odor was indeed not Korean leftovers. Yep, my decomposing father smelled like old kimchi.
It’s gross. And perhaps horrifying. So I was positive those good memories were stained forever.
I thought his goodness was gone. I thought I could never get the good back without a slap in the face with the bad.
And then 14 years went by.
And it’s finally happened. I’m at the point where I can imagine his brown slippers and see only 3 year-old me pretending they were boats. And then smile. And then move on.
Only now can I listen to tapes of him playing the piano and simply remember his long fingers and how they swept across the keys like magic wands.
14 years is so long. So so long. It could have been sooner. All I had to do was make the choice.
But it’s hard to make that choice when you don’t understand there’s a choice to be made.
My dad had a choice. He had life right there asking him to decide. He could have said “This is hard, but I’m learning how to get through it.” Instead he said, “This sucks. I’m outtee.”
Life’s all about those decisions. I have been choosing for years to say, “I grew up with a dead dad. That sucks. Whatever. I’m not going to think about it.” And now I’m finally choosing to say, “This gives me a different perspective, and I’m going to learn what I can.”
Once I made that decision, things became clearer. I figured out that my pops was just a man. Like any other man. He had problems and fears and traumas and delights. And he spent his life winging it. Just like all of us do. We’re guessing right now. And that’s all we can do. In 1996, he felt hopeless and helpless. And he guessed wrong. He made the only kind of mistake from which he couldn’t learn. Before, I used to wonder what he was thinking in those minutes before death, completely conscious about his decision and his imminent demise. Did he think about me? Did it take long? Was he gasping for air? Was he thrashing around? Did he change his mind? Did he regret it? Did he regret anything? Did he wonder if he’d left the iron on? Did he know he’d end up smelling like Korean leftovers?
I’ll never know. But I have finally decided that I don’t need to know. I know that he was great when he was great. And I don’t need to spend any more time asking questions I can’t answer. Questions nobody can answer.
I have chosen to finally move on. To finally forgive this man and see him as just that: A man. A man who made a mistake. A man who would undoubtedly take back that mistake. A man who would be here with me right now if he could.
That’s why that tribute was so important to me. And that it means so much that other people got something from my years of work. 14 years in the making. 14 years to this moment where I can finally see our picture together and remember only the man whose feet I climbed onto. The guy who would dance me around the living room. That was my dad. That guy. That’s the guy I miss. That’s the guy who made everyone feel. Thanks again, Pops. You’re still teaching me lessons every day.
Now… on to the difficult task of accepting the people who are alive.
Me: Dad, I can’t believe you let Mom cut my hair this short. It’s hideous.
Dad: You look fine. I’m the one with this horrible beard. It really itches.
Me: Your beard is great. And those glasses. Just wait til 2010, and you’ll fit in with the hipsters in LA.
Dad: Nah, I think I’ll head out in 1996 instead.
Me: All righty then. It’s been fun. I shall remember this time we had together. Peace out.