A lifetime ago, I used to write poems, and among the hundreds of poems I wrote was a series — I think there were seven or eight — called “letter to my father” that was to my dad, full of questions I never asked him, and things I never told him. I don’t write poems anymore, because I seem to have lost touch with my ability or will to do so, but I’ve been thinking of those poems since yesterday.
My father died. I don’t know when, exactly. A couple of weeks, in Arab time, could mean last week or it could mean a month ago or it could mean a couple of weeks. He was in Yemen, which is where he’d been for the past two and a half years, give or take a few months, and he had a heart attack. That is what I know. He was planning to come back to the States, I knew that also, and yesterday I thought I’d look him up and see if he’d made it back yet or if anybody was aware of an estimated time of arrival. What I learned instead is that he’s gone.
There’s no funeral I can attend, or nearby grave where I can take flowers, and this, here, may be all I have. Of course, I don’t really know what to write. He was my father, and he failed me, and I was his daughter, and I failed him, but we loved each other. That was the last thing we told each other, months ago on the phone. “I love you,” he said. “I love you too, daddy,” I told him.
My father immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. He was lanky, and he seemed incredibly tall. He wasn’t actually incredibly tall, but he seemed that way, due in part to the aforementioned lankiness, but also due to the way he carried himself. People would stop and watch him when he entered a room, in part, I suppose, because he was handsome, but mostly I think because that was the thing to do: he had a presence that demanded attention. He was proud, and never fully comfortable in English, because he didn’t sound like a native when he spoke it, because the words didn’t come easily, so he could be on the quiet side, but he had a deep, deep voice, the sound of which I hope I never forget. He had an expressive face and an easy grin. He had an intense stare and fascinating eyes, dark dark brown with a small ring of blue around the outside edge of the irises. His hands shook. He put honey on pancakes and nearly lethal amounts of sugar in his coffee.
What does that say? Not much, as it happens. I am the oldest of his children. I have a half brother and half sister. I have a cousin who is like a brother; my father raised him like his own son when my uncle died. My dad wanted me to go to Yemen. He wanted to show me where he was from. He wanted all of his family together. I never went, which was a disappointment to him. I always said “someday” and it never came. The family has never all been in one place.
I don’t think he ever quite knew what to do with me, which is what he told my mom on more than one occasion. I never quite knew what to do with him, either, and because we’re cut from the same cloth, that meant we dealt with it by not doing much of anything. I always thought I had time, that I would figure out a way for us to make sense to each other, and I waited and waited for that epiphany to come. I know that it’s the biggest lie any of us ever believe, that we have time to put things off, that we can wait for circumstances to line themselves up just so. But there’s never enough time to love a person. I should’ve tried harder. And he should’ve, too.
I’ve lived so much of my life without my father, spent so much time being angry at him because he wasn’t who I wanted him to be. And now he’s gone and I can’t have any of that time back. Reaching out in love is always the right thing to do, no matter how hard it is, and the chances to do so aren’t infinite. It turns out that we are all mortal after all.
I don’t know what else to write.