Almost three weeks to the exact date and time I heard my father died, I made my cell phone wallpaper his photo. Photos of my dad are now both my home screen and my wallpaper. My dad is the decor od a phone that only a week ago had been in his name ( had been since high school). I am in this profession where part of my call is to make meaning of difficult things. Today in simple acts that were once mundane I choose to them ascribe memory and meaning. I’m waiting on a plane to go to home for my father’s memorial service. I am about to leave my routine to celebrate the life of my father who is my home, now my home screen and my wallpaper. And yet even as he is the wallpaper, he is also the joist and the wall that have supported me for 33 years.
I get asked “How are you?” A LOT. The answer is, “sometimes ok”. If “ok” means that I am not currently crying or currently expressing anger at how unfair it is to be a daddy-less daughter. I’ve got to make new meanings of things that I once thought I could define. I have to take the lofty rhetoric of papers, statements of faith, creeds and let them really be. The meaning-making, the memory grasping, the hurt, it is awful and beautiful at the same time.
Three weeks ago, my world came to a dramatic pause yet, for so many others life went on as expected. Divorce sucks, cancer sucks but death sucks the worst. No amount of knowledge that death is a natural part of life nor past eulogies I’ve heard (or given) or so called words of encouragement uttered to others in their times of loss prepared me. I wasn’t prepared for the Thursday morning shock of a confirmation to the worst question I’ve uttered. Parents don’t call at 3:41am or leave voicemails with the word “emergency”. The primal screams and cries that I imagine I only uttered the day my world began uttered again on the day I wondered if my world and my life had actually ended.
I am not one to suffer silently or in solitude. I bleed in the presence of trusted friends. And I won’t grieve in the darkness either. Not that everyone warrants a look at the intimacy and vulnerability of the valley. No! Friends are given that title for a reason and, while my people will be my people; I am telling myself when I can that, this is always true: It’s also ok to be not ok.
I am not feeling super inspired to speak at my father’s memorial service in three days. My love of my dad and the heartbreak of his loss cannot be contained to 2-3 minutes and the potential pitied stares of both strangers and loved ones. The emotions and the words can’t be condensed. I don’t want to speak because some moments over the last three weeks I don’t even remember how to live. Much of this grief is a minute by minute negotiation. My father passed. That’s the most PC way of saying the intimate statement, “My Daddy died”. Father is too distant even, if we personify it with a possessive but "Daddy" that’s a term of endearment, a name I’ve known as long or longer than I’ve known my name. I am because he was. He was my home and my wallpaper or rather he is my home and my wallpaper.
I had to scroll pretty far back to get the most recent photo of my dad. It’s odd because he is/was always there. At my last big public life event, my installation as Associate Pastor at Westminster he was there. As a boomer and an old millennial we did not document the occasion with a selfie but, he was there. He was there smiling. He was there in the front of the church: proud and present he was there. He was always there. Maybe one day I will find peace in the notion that it is not a past tense presence but an ever-present presence. My dad is the wallpaper of all my joys and all my sorrows. He hurls/ed praise and affirmation even when I hurled at him my hurt and pain. The hurt of divorce, the pain of growing up. And he was there, seemingly both stoic and sensitive, silent and silly. He was there always both father and friend. Daddy, my wallpaper and my home.
I came home one weekend from seminary my dad and I went to buy a car. We bought a 2001 Toyota Camry. He and most mechanics are constantly reminding me that Toyotas are good, reliable cars and you just need to take care of them. One of my last conversations with my dad was about White Lightning and whether she will need to be replaced in the new year. I have never made a decision about a car without him. I know the conversations about cars with the man who introduced me to NPR’s (of course I called him when Click died), talked to me about my car (paid for many repairs),bought me my first car,took me to car shows and taught me to drive (and in these last few months I’m NoVa assured me that I would in fact master parallel parking) will sorely missed. Just like a the toyota he went with me to by, my father too was good and reliable. My dad both my home and my wallpaper. I wonder what that first repair or car decision without his advice will be like.
I am listening to music right now. Let ’s be more specific; I am listening to a playlist called “Daddy”. For the mixtape master and the mathematician who didn’t always know what to say, music was my father’s love language. He shared it with me, my brothers and many others. He never quite got into Jay-Z(his loss) and only later in life did I start to appreciate jazz. It will be the music that will keep him close. In 8th grade I took the mantle of the mix on and, began preparing mix tapes, cds, and playlists as technology morphed. The mixes were a way to love my dad in a way I knew how to love because he taught me this love language. In those mixes I began to share who I was becoming and what we were as father and daughter. It was if Carrie Underwood’s, The Girl You Think I Am and Paul Simon’s Father and Daughter communicated an intimacy and a love we both didn’t know how to articulate. We shared music: mixes sent to me in seminary, road trips and daddy/daughter listening sessions on the deck.
The summer before I went to seminary, I picked up four heavy boxes of albums. Before Urban Outfitters and hipsters brought records back, I took those boxes from the garage before they went to a local Goodwill. I didn’t know exactly what I inherited. I did know that it was a treasure. Since he died, I often wondered if this treasure of albums, albums on the verge of being discarded is how my Dad thought of himself, sometimes. He always seemed surprised that people enjoyed his company. My dad, my home and my wallpaper always physically present but sometimes not emotionally. I wonder if in his brilliance he couldn’t always articulate that he loved deeply the ones who he called children, wife, sister and family. He was brilliant and deep but sometimes aloof, sometimes hesitant. It was what I loved and didn’t always love about him, this beautifully flawed person who loved deeply yet not always demonstratively. I love my father, and I know I was loved by my father. Ours was not always a love displayed in hugs and salutations of “ I love you”. It was a love that came out in ice cream, playlists, politics, and emails, as an adult. A love that came out in spaghetti dinners, life savers, garage jingles, and bedtime stories, as a child. A love that was always present even if it wasn’t always public. It is the love that makes a person both your home and your wall paper.
I too don’t always have the capacity or where with all to end conversations with “ I love you” or go in for the hug. I struggle with how to be emotionally present. I too find myself surprised that I have people. In so many ways I am he and, he is me. I am my father’s child. I love my Daddy, my wallpaper and my home. When I slumber and when I rise, I hope that somewhere over the 33 years that I was blessed to traverse this earth with Amassa Courtney Fauntleroy III as my father, he knew that he was my home and my wallpaper, father and my friend, my rock, my world. That he was the treasure that I got to call “Daddy” and that even with the hurt and pain of divorce, cancer, and family struggle I loved him fiercely and will love him fiercely forever. I know that I was loved fiercely and will be loved forever by him and that he saw in me a treasure.
I don’t know if I ever responded to the letter you sent me in the summer of 1994. So in 23 years later in the fall of your death, may I respond.
It may be a long time ’til I see you. I miss you a lot.
Life is not the same and I wonder if it will ever be. I promise to learn to make the foods you like: crab cakes, sweet potato pie, chocolate cake (and even stewed tomatoes)
I will try to be good.