71 Candles (Today is your birthday)
I have loved primates since you sat me before a silverback gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo and made me consider his autonomy. “Look into his eyes,” you said, “And tell me if you think he belongs here.” I have not been the same since. You were always enamored with wildlife — all wildlife, really, but especially the majestic wildlife of Africa. While everyone else's dad was watching baseball or football games, you were watching nature documentaries. You were debating politics. You were taking us to the ballet. You were telling anyone who would listen about some obscure 17th century Russian tsar who shaped the face of Eastern Europe forever. You were one of the most intelligent men I ever met, and you were not afraid to unleash your intellectual fecundity on anyone who knowingly or unknowingly beckoned it. At the time, I just wanted a regular "American" dad. Now, you are all that I want.
What is a father? In the last few days, this question has become more important to answer than ever before. I know the easy answer. A father is a superhero. For a daughter, a father is her first Prince Charming. A father works long hours so that his children are clothed, well-fed, and warm. A father sacrifices things so that his children do not have to. But this was not all that you were. You were also the foundational support of every one of us. For example, If I was a fossil and someone was to examine me millions of years from now, they would disassemble me to my most underlying component, and only then would they say, “Ah, yes, I see who she was. She was Henry.”
But in truth, you are even more than that. You had your own dreams, your own wishes, your own desires. I know that a part of you always wanted to see the world. Perhaps it was you who inspired this in me. Now, I will take you. I will take you to the four corners of the earth and free you to the winds that caress the savannas, to the roots that nourish the verdant jungles, to the intellect that created the great cathedrals of the European cities you so admired. I will take you to the overgrown ruins of ancient Asian cities you never thought you’d see. I will bring you to witness the age-old saga of lions and wildebeest, wild and free and without constraint. I will name a tree in every place for you. A bridge. A rock. A river. A flower. Henry, Henry, Henry. I will christen them all.
I will keep you alive, even if, in the end, this is not what you wanted. I am learning to accept your autonomy now, even if every cell in my body rebels against it. You are free. You are a part of this blinding beauty, part of the ancient rhythms that bring us to our knees in wondrous humility while we are mere humans. For now, in every place that I take you, it will be you who is looking back at me. And so the rhythms continue in a way that we humans can understand only in slivered glimpses. But you are here and will always be. You course in our blood, are written onto our DNA. You are seared onto our very souls. You will live on this great and wondrous planet. You will live, and we will keep you.
Monica I am so impressed by your emotional eloquence and love for your father. What a beautiful and genuine tribute. Rest easy, Henry. Your daughter's love is with you.
Wow! This expression of love for Henry is profound! How fortunate he is to have you as one of his children! Your grief is palpable, but your promise to him is bursting with a desire to continue on as a living legacy. I know you will do just that and more! Your thoughts are a healing balm to all of us whose fathers have entered the great beyond. Every once in a while I need my dad's advice (he would be over half way through his 100th year now), but then I remember I already know his answers. This is the way your piece of writing makes me feel about you and Henry! Thanks for posting!
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