“I don’t see why it’s impossible to express everything that’s on one’s mind.”
On Father’s Day, writer Gab Halasz honors the memory of her father with this short story of his character, his family, and the bonds they share.
“Dad” by Gab Halasz
It is supper-time, Dad’s bald head glistens under the incandescent light as he tells us of being in the woods and amongst howling wolves. He has just come in from the bush and smells of wood fire, sweat, and pipe smoke. He wears a plaid shirt and tan cotton pants with small burn marks around the pockets. The culprit is his pipe, which only keeps a burning ash when in his pocket. “Bloody thing,” he curses under his breath. I love the aroma of his cherry tobacco.
Waves crash against our gunnels threatening to capsize us. We are in the middle of Crooked Pine Lake, the wind howls making the water frothy. Dad unlashes our tied canoes and instructs the twins to paddle hard for the far shore. Even though we have a motor, our boat struggles against the onslaught, but we slowly leave the boys behind. I am twelve years old and not afraid. I’m with Dad. He would never allow anything to happen to me.
I’m pretty naïve. Mom has good reason to worry when he’s in charge.
Breakfast is scrambled eggs with leftover rice. All his breakfasts are like this. Green beans and oatmeal. Eggs, deer meat, and toast. Coffee, cream of wheat, and peppers. But I’m fifteen and will eat almost anything.
“Do you want a ride today?” he asks.
I consider this seriously. It’s minus thirty-five, and the wind howls outside. “Yes please,” I say.
He nods and shovels half the egg concoction onto my plate. I watch Dad’s big, scarred hands as he eats. “I’m working out of the office today,” he says. “Do you want a ride home after school?”
I’m shocked. Dad doesn’t like giving us rides. He doesn’t like to be on anyone’s schedule but his own. I shake my head. “No thanks. Lori and I are working on a project after school. Lori’s dad said he’d give us a ride home.”
The weatherman announces that the temperature is going to be minus 43 by Friday. “You dress warm,” Dad says uncharacteristically. He usually assumes we are smart enough to figure these things out for ourselves.
I’m running a ten k, the fourth in three days. Dad’s gone. It’s surreal. One day I’m talking to him on the phone, the next day he is dead. Just like that. No warning. No goodbyes.
The worst is when I see someone I know. “Sorry to hear about your dad. How are you holding up?” I hate it. I hate crying in front of people. So I run.
I realize for the first time how grown-up and amazing my daughter is. She’s twelve. She was the one who found him and called the ambulance. She stood by her grandmother. She tells me what happened, matter of fact, strong, poised. I’m proud of the little blond mop top. I see his strength in her. His genes live on.