In early January, days after holiday celebrations have ended, the haze of hangovers has lifted and Times Square is cleared of confetti, garbage and tourists, I get depressed.
I know that I’m not alone. Many other people experience a letdown after the holidays. My sadness, however, is not due to the end of party season, the miserable, naked trees abandoned on the sidewalks, or the final full day of “A Christmas Story” airings on TV. My sadness is that in early January, 13 years ago, my dad passed away. Sorry if this is a downer. Most of you didn’t know my dad but I can assure you, it was a great loss, if not to the world at large, then to me.
My father was always willing to listen to my woes, revel in my successes and accept my ways – even when he didn’t understand what the hell I was doing. He was a casebook curmudgeon. He wasn’t all that fond of most people, but luckily, I made the cut.
If I disappointed him, he was quick to pull out an old black and white photo from his wallet. It was taken in Atlantic City when I was four years old. He was sitting on a bench on the boardwalk, and I was standing next to him, gazing up at him with the love a four-year old daddy’s girl had for her daddy. It was a sweet photo, however, decades later, he would take it out and look at it longingly as if wondering: where did that little girl go? When I was in my twenties and beyond, and he would go for the photo, I would remind him, sassily, that I was no longer that four-year old, a fact of which he was quite aware. Back in the wallet the photo would go. I really wish I had it now.
There are some memories, though, I can visualize so clearly that no photo is needed. My father and I loved the rain and the thunder and lightning. My mother was terrified. She would run into the hallway in our house and roll herself up into the smallest ball imaginable, cover her ears and wait out the storm. My father and I would stand by the picture window (probably not the smartest move) and watch the storm play out. When it was all over, my mother would unravel herself and go back to what she was doing, pre-thunder, and my dad would build a little origami sailboat. It was perfect and sea-worthy. He and I would walk outside and launch the boat next to the curb where the run-off from the rain would carry it down the street. We’d walk down the block together, following its journey until it ran aground. When my father died of a stroke years later, I went on Google and found instructions for making a little origami sailboat. When I buried his ashes, I buried the boat with him. It just seemed right.
Soon after his death, I sat in a therapist’s office, trying to handle the first major loss I’d experienced. She knew me well and had been incredibly helpful during breakups, existential crises and general blahs. As I related the story about the origami sailboat, she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Struck a nerve?” I asked. “Well, we all have fathers,” she replied in her Mary Poppins voice. (She’s British and I sometimes think she might break into a chorus of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” but, to date, no such luck).
Days later, she called me to asked if I was upset that she cried when I told my story. I told her I was not. That was not true, however. I was actually annoyed that she teared up during my time. How dare she be human during my session!
Not long ago, while dealing with pandemic anxiety, I had a video session with my therapist during which I apologized for not being honest with her about my annoyance almost 13 years before. She said that she remembered the episode vaguely and asked why I would say her tears didn’t bother me when they obviously did. Well, that’s probably a topic for a whole other session, but at least I finally told the truth. It had been bugging me for all this time – which should tell you a little something about me...
Ah well, we’re reaching that time of year again, when people eat more carbs than thought humanly possible, and resolve to do better at whatever. We think about holidays past. We remember those who are not around to celebrate. (I’m not talking about the people who fly to Vermont to ski during the holidays so they don’t have to see their relatives). As for me, I’ll miss my dad for the 13th year in a row – and counting.
Mona Finston has worked as a vocalist and publicist. She has finally finished a first draft of her screenplay and is working on a book of essays.