Some fathers never die. It is the case with mine, a writer, whose sudden death almost 30 years ago propelled him into immortality, and left me awkwardly straddling two realities; one from which he was irreversibly gone and another where he is forever present. It proved impossible to spend any solid block of time in that first, heartbreaking reality and mourn him in peace — assuming there is such a thing as peaceful mourning — without being interrupted by regular and impetuous demands from the other one, where he was being read, published, reprinted, quoted, taught.
Every day I deal with matters pertaining to my father’s literary estate, his writing, his voice. Every day I imagine his skeptical gaze upon me as I try to make decisions in keeping with his wishes (or, more accurately, as I procrastinate about these decisions). If Father’s Day is a day when you remember your father, appreciate him and assess his importance in your life, then for me every day is Father’s Day.
This year, in order to do things differently, I will make a conscious effort to separate the man from his writing. One of my favorite stories by my father (from the Mr. Palomar series) evokes a vivid memory of him sitting at the top of the sloping lawn beside our summer home in Tuscany. The Palomar character and my father are so similar that I tend to conflate them. The story is titled “Dialogue with a Turtle,” and the mental image it conjures up is of my father, in espadrilles, sitting cross-legged in a washed-out butterfly folding chair, his brow simultaneously knitted and raised, making him look 80 percent concentrated and 20 percent perplexed. But this image is a fake, as many memories are: It is a composite of various moments, of photos, of other people’s recollections.