Bent Words

Bent Words

June 08, 2020

I always expect him to be old when I see him.

To my delight, he never is.

He’s supposed to be 80 this year and that scares the crap out of me. I should just enjoy the time we have together and, I do, but I also never have enough time with him. When we visit the Lake, I still have all the children to care for and it ends up being someone else who gets the garrulous guy with a bit of booze, the sun in his eyes and pipe tobacco. But he’s my Dad and I’m the only one who gets along with him like I do. Even my mother has said she is jealous of our relationship. It’s because he’s straight up, looks at the past longingly and likes to read. He’s a little judgmental, a little rude when not making direct eye contact and forgets to let you speak. He’s not huge into the social scene so you have to take that part with a grain of salt but if you’re a little girl with bigger aspirations than you’re destined for, it’s a pretty big deal to have him in your corner.

He loves me a little more than he does the rest and in a way unlike anything I’ll ever have again.

So I get paranoid when I’m not there and he’s just… aging. I worry about the snow and driveway, the lake and the boat, the lawn mowing and the hills and the way he doesn’t ever put sunscreen on. It’s not even that he smokes that bothers me (it’s a pipe, you don’t inhale it); it’s the secondhand smoke that he’s subjected to. It’s his scary fucking driving and a bit of a nagging wife (amplify that one, I do not exaggerate on that – I forgive). Lift this heavy thing, heave that awkward rock, climb this shaky ladder or swim in the murky waters of the Lake.

I wait to hear the news like I did with my Grandma and Grandpa.

He’s fallen or he’s had a heart attack. He did too much, spent the day out too long and missed the curve on the way home. I don’t know. I picture the disasters like I read them in books. Emotionally I’m too spent to take on more but I can’t put the book down until I found out what’s next.

He's my splendid handwriting and my college degree. He’s my “here – take this money and don’t tell your mom.” He’s my “you’re just like your father” and “I look back a lot too, little girl, so don’t do what I do and regret today.” He’s my sage advice (sometimes you have to play the system) and my devil’s advocate (you can’t make it in the apartment on your own, Muppet) and my ardor of good words and long fucking novels. War and Peace, anyone?! He’s my genealogy with this detailed tree of life.

He let me dance on his toes when I was tiny.

He rocked me to sleep with his favorite college song (drink beer, drink beer – oh come drink beer with me) when I was too big to be rocked.

He harmonized with my voice when I realized I love all the same Simon and Garfunkel tunes as he.

He is “Stand By Me” on my drive home in the darkness on my motorcycle.

He says yes every time my Mom says no. Still.

So you’re not supposed to LET him grow old. I’m not ALLOWING it.

He’s still that young, strict, funny guy who smells like cut grass and man sweat. He’s that guy who pulled me out from under the water when I was drowning in a pool but didn’t realize that the undertow had taken me away in the ocean. He’s more hard working than anyone I know. He’s oblivious but the smartest man I’ve ever met. He’s more handsome than Cary Grant and funnier sometimes too. He’s sentimental but he won’t let on. He’s so fucking loving but you have to dig a bit. He will lie to your face that he is offering discounted rent to the Spanish residents in his building for his affinity to Mexico where he spent five years of his adult life after the Vietnam War.

He’s why you don’t give up on love. Or dreams. Or people.

He’d die for me in heartbeat and his son who’s not his, too.

He is the purest form of person I have ever met and I wish I were more like him. All the time.

He loves my children like he loves me. Entirely.

We didn’t do quite enough together but I don’t know that we really could. I spent WAY MORE of my adult life with him and my mom than any kid probably should but DAMN am I fucking happy for that. I went into my 30’s before hitting mortgages and children and heavy burdens topped with catastrophes. I spend more time being loved by the only people in the world who will forever love me unconditionally than maybe most get to in three lifetimes. Nothing I did was wrong, nowhere I went was too far.

Smoking, drinking, boating, sitting. All at once quiet. All at once loud. Stentorian Johnson laughter. Solitary Johnson proud. Reciting poetry (Jabberwocky, anything by Robert Service) and reading books aloud to each other and recommending novels. Singing operettas and attending plays. Fine food (steal the seafood fork, little girl), a whiskey dipped ceeeegar, FLAH and sun soaked pools. The beach and the ocean. Mussels and music on the street. He cried when I went to Paris because he hasn’t been. I cried that he lived in Mexico and I’ve never gone. I graduated from his college, I followed in his footsteps and I sit by his side.

Mi Papcito.

With his stern look and his kind smile, his open heart and his adventurous spirit (wasted on my mother, I think). Correcting grammar and encouraging sparks of fire in an otherwise timid soul.

“We’ve finished up the filthy war, or have we? I don’t know.”

My Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Don sent me his baby photos, his baby book and the birth announcement from his church. I page through it all – the things I keep that that no one else wants. MAN. He was so loved. He is so loved.


SO I guess it’s okay. Let him be 80. Let him be 102. Let him be where he is in this world. Growing younger by the day.

We’ll say “I love you” in four different languages because just one isn’t enough.

Written at 7:03 p.m.