My father died this past spring.
I made no announcements, attended no funerals, and cried no tears over his passing. Though Dad lived an hour away I hadn’t seen him for about fifteen years. Estranged is the proper word, but as a wordie (like some people are foodies) “estranged” always conjures up notions of arguments and betrayal, of tearful decisions, of heart-rendering loss. This was a more logical decision, a choice based on my emotional, familial bandwidth: I have a wonderful husband, two amazing kids, a mother I adore, brothers I admire, FIVE sisters-in-law and their extended families, two sets of great in-laws, seven first cousins… er. You get the picture. We have an abundance of family.
I didn’t need a dad who didn’t seem that interested, who didn’t seem to want to put in the effort of even a phone call, who left it all up to me, his youngest child, to define and maintain our bond. I didn’t have the time, and I didn’t have the need. Nothing was so much wrong as there wasn’t much comparatively right about our relationship. And so I let it fade away.
The truth is I had lost my father years before that, if I ever had him at all, at an age when I was too young to know or care how it might inform my life, my family, my writing. I am alternately glad and mad over this turn of events. I’m not a fatalist, but I can see how his loss led to certain good and bad decisions in my life, which led me to now, which is a pretty damn good time and space to live in.
After Dad died, his very kind second wife, who he was married to for decades, rang me about some stuff from my side of the family he had kept. Dad was a saver. Not a hoarder; no, he was far too organized for that. But he saved all kinds of stuff. Ordinary stuff like notes and pictures to old keepsakes like his pledge paddle from his fraternity and the slide rules from his mechanical engineering education. He even had his old US-1 sailboat, an archaic racing boat impeccably maintained and still named the Betsy Caroline. Lots of it I remember from childhood. It was packed neatly and perfectly as if he knew someday I would pick them up and carry them off.
I have an affinity for old things. My house is decorated with antiques. None of them are fancy or expensive, but everyday items like chairs and crocks and trunks and frames and dressers and even an old cooler that seriously keeps your beer colder than new ones. Our grandparents and great-grandparents used these things and now we do.
But I had nothing from Dad.
It took me awhile to get the guts up to collect his stuff. The history and aesthetics of old things have power over me. I was scared of these particular things, worried they’d make me mourn a relationship I had given up on so many years ago. But I was wrong. They’re reassuring to have around, actually. They make me happy. Dad’s things cause no tears or mournful goodbyes. They are a quiet hello from a past I’m more suited to embrace.
Betsy Dornbusch is the author of several fantasy short stories, novellas, and five novels, including the BOOKS OF THE SEVEN EYES trilogy and THE SILVER SCAR. She likes writing, reading, snowboarding, punk rock, and the Denver Broncos. Betsy and her family split their time between Boulder and Grand Lake, Colorado.