Dear dad: a letter 20 years after our last father’s day…

This is the 20th anniversary of my last father’s day with my dad. He died of lung cancer when I was in my late 20’s. I was trying to think of a way to remember him this year, where flowers on a tombstone fail miserably. I wrote him this letter last night:

Dear Dad,

Sunday is the 20th anniversary of our last father’s day. It marks 20 years since we looked at pictures together; 20 years since you laughed and told stories I’d never heard of our family’s history.

It marks the end of sushi dinners. And boat trips to Montauk or Nantucket. And Sunday bagels and lox with the Times spread all over the table (I still read the paper that way, you should know). And the day after Thanksgiving at Macy’s. And outrageous Christmas Eves because you didn’t want to be the center of attention on your birthday.

It marks the months before you’d not meet the man I’d eventually marry (the one you’d probably tell me wasn’t good enough. None of them ever were).

This father’s day marks the anniversary of a quiet celebration before your hospital bed would arrive, just as it marks the beginning of the hole that would remain in my heart.

It marks the beginning of the wouldn’t be there’s:

You wouldn’t be there to see me turn 30

Or to see my first underwater photos

Or to help me make a decision on which career path to follow (The first time. Or the second.)

You wouldn’t be there to listen to my stories from the trips I’d make to the jungle and other far-flung places

Or to read what I was writing and finally comfortable sharing

…to see me buy my first house in the suburbs (or to tell me it wasn’t good enough)

…to meet my dog

Or to help me through job loss and love lost and the angst of meeting 40

And you wouldn’t see me blow up and then piece back together everything in my world

You wouldn’t see me get my Master’s degree

And you wouldn’t see me doing a job that on most days fulfills both my head and my heart.

And you wouldn’t be there to see the greatest individual work of my life come to fruition, whether or not it makes the NYT bestseller list.

I would have liked to travel with you, to see some of the world as an adult with you, to go on photo walks and get ice cream and talk about books and play Spite & Malice and go window shopping in seaside towns. In not necessarily that order. I miss the New York City people-watching lunches where we’d make up stories about the characters sitting at the other tables. We did that at Trump Tower one day…do you remember?

You know what? I think I could probably beat you at scrabble today. I want to scream sometimes at that silly little thing; the knowing something so simple can simply not ever be.

There isn’t a day I don’t miss you, dad. And there isn’t a day I don’t wish I’d talked to you more, and listened better, through the years. I didn’t get enough time to ask you the things I didn’t know I needed to find out when I had the opportunity. There isn’t a day I don’t wish you’d been there to see me turn out ok. The world is a bumpy place right now, and though life’s not perfect it’s pretty good. And I think you’d be proud of me today, dad.

Happy father’s day.