It was a strange meeting, but there was a symmetry to the event. A circle closed, like the earth coming round the sun for a new try at the thing called a day. The father coming round the son, too.
How could he? My dad died 19 years ago.
Death is a vanishing, an evaporation of substantiality, an empty place. I no more see my author as a breathing, touchable creature looking back at me. He won’t tap on the bottom of the always necessary ketchup bottle at supper. Milt Stein’s eyes will never sparkle delivering jokes he can’t tell, nor a rare tear reappear for a last bow.
So I thought, until he showed up on Father’s Day, 2019. A strange meeting, as I said.
Shopping with my wife I spotted a set of adhesive, black, cloth mustaches hanging from a shelf.
“Buy me,” the product whispered. Little persuasion was necessary. I figured my eldest grandson would get a cheap boost of happiness. The pint-sized person is easy to please just by showing up. His smile alone juices my serotonin, too. Market this small man if you can and he’ll replace antidepressants.
When we arrived at his home two days later I grabbed W, who reminds me often he is “a big boy.” My little descendant is almost four and, indeed, sizeable for his age. An outgoing spirit who loves to laugh and read, with a specialty in all things dinosaur. A strong personality like his mom.
“I got you something, W.” The lad couldn’t wait. The fake facial accessories were opened right away. The largest attached to my grandson’s upper lip, another clung to my own.
My youngest daughter photographed us. A baseball cap covered my broad expanse of scalp. The picture of me was not me, however.
A revenant appeared, a ghost. Did you hear the door creak? My father snuck in and emerged from the pixels.
More snapshots got taken with my grandson. My wife, daughters, and brothers all remember dad. They concurred in my transformed likeness.
“Rain or Shine” Milt Stein was present. Here was a man who claimed fame for pitching every day, the make-believe star hurler of the Chicago Cubs. Here materialized the indefatigable and reliable husband and sire he made himself into.
The family joke-of-a-story never failed to amuse us. Had my wife and I created a male child instead of our wonderful girls, we intended to name him Rainer. The old man knew our plans.
I wear baseball caps a lot, but the addition of the facial, felt, fakery did its magic. Dark mustache added, baldness subtracted, I was he. That and no longer being the younger man I look like to myself most of the time. Research suggests we begin to think of ourselves as 15 years below our step on the chronology ladder once we land on the rung marked “Middle Age.”
Unlike me — his oldest son — dad retained a decent head of hair all his life. Somewhere near 60 padre added to his masculinity with a mustache. I must have asked him why, but don’t recall the answer.
The additional hair favored him, so he displayed himself to the world this way for the last 30 years or so of his life. His three boys, Ed, Jack, and I, remember him in this post-prime, but still genuine version.
I now live with my father, I suppose. OK, we all do, but I mean in a new way. He is nearby externally as well as inside. With a few adornments I am a visible reincarnation of him.
Perhaps I’ll go out and acquire several more top lip appendages for those moments I wish my father close-at-hand again. I’d stand before the mirror, of course.
If I have the urge to reach forward the whole enterprise would collapse. Too full of unfulfilled emotion, something life inevitably acquaints us with. But if I could peer straight ahead, smile, and sense a bit of the warmth and love he brought me, then … well, then …
Fill in the blanks however you desire. Maybe your experience would be different. Anyway, this Father’s Day was memorable and surprising.
Go shopping. Buy whatever speaks to you. Bring a camera. You never know who you will meet when you get home.
The top photo of Jeanette and Milton Stein was taken around 1990, the year of their 50th wedding anniversary.