Thursday, January 18, 2007



This past weekend, the New York Times Book Review ran a review of Calvin Trillin's newly released book About Alice, a slender recollection of his life with his recently deceased wife Alice. Judging solely from the review, it's obvious that Trillin had an intense love for his spouse, but more importantly, Trillin's memory and attention to detail is uncanny (although he admits that his wife contested many of his memories). He internalized the minutiae if it had anything to do with Alice and this short book is proof of her lasting impression. And as I stood in the kitchen hovered over the weekend paper, I admired his detailed retention, even envied it.

Four years ago from that Saturday, my own father passed away. And in those four years, I have realized how much I didn't know. As I read the review of Trillin's book, this became more apparent. There are gaps in the knowledge of my father ranging from the obvious, like what was his favorite color, what day of the week was he born, to the hidden, like, was there ever a time when he'd felt embarrassed by me?

It's an incredible thing to have those answers, to have someone in your life that you can access 24-7. A father, or a parent, is always available, constantly on call. If you need to talk at 4 AM, all you have to do is pick up the phone. But when that accessibility is taken from you, that's unnerving. This is not simply a denial, this is an abolition of a right. Some people, like my mother, are frustrated by this (understandably so) but sadly, over the year, I've come to accept it. I think of my father on a daily basis, like the other day, when Shana jokingly called me obsessive compulsive (Dad took out the garbage or started the laundry moments after the Sabbath ended almost as if he'd been racing with a zealous housewife elsewhere). But thinking about dad always feels too passive, too easy like an acceptance. Missing someone seems more passionately active, and as the years pass, I feel like my ability to be an active emitter of pain is dissipating. I resent that intensely.

In the kitchen, in what was his kitchen, I thought about the questions I would ask him if he were still here. I imagined that I was writing a book about our time together, the first time I can recall a solid memory of my father like when he drove me to playgroup, or how he bought me a strawberry milkshake from Carvel every time he went to the neighboring tailor.

Trillin writes, ''I was walking through an airport to catch a plane back to New York when, apropos of nothing, the possibility that things could have gone the other way in 1976 burst into my mind. I could see myself trying to tell my girls that their mother was dead. I think I literally staggered. I sat down in the nearest chair. I wasn't in tears. I was in a condition my father would have called poleaxed. A couple of people stopped to ask if I was all right. I must have said yes. After a while, the pictures faded from my mind. I walked to the gate and caught my flight to New York.''

Trillin and I are different in that I never imagined life without my father. It was unfathomable (sometimes, it still is). I thought, Dad had always been there to save me and would continue to do so forever. When someone offers to take care of you selflessly, it's normal to take advantage. I took advantage of my father's love and kindness like it was my job. My father would joke that he needed nothing from me in return because ultimately, his gift was seeing his family happy and privileged. And so, I remained the focus of his attention until he was no more.

In retrospect, I realize that perhaps this is why I still have those unanswered questions. All throughout our time together, he made me believe that I was his life and I believed it. I was the focus of our collective attention. And the more I think about it, I'm certain that he would have no difficulty writing a book of our life together, describing the minutiae of my childhood, or answering the questions like the ones I'm having such great difficulty resolving.


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