History

I am in the process of having a bunch of old paper photos scanned and digitized, so I’ve spent the past few days going through my many old photos album to decide what photos I want to send in. Doing so brings up a lot of powerful things inside of me and my heart.

The thing that really trips me out about looking through old photos is looking at photos of my dad. He was killed in a car accident when I was seven, so I don’t have any really good memories of him. But thanks to my mom and my grandmothers, I have many photos of him. And it is magical to look at them. Especially the ones on which he made notes on the back. Each photo is like a little window into who he was.

He was a Marine (semper fi, motherfuckers!) and I have many photos of him in uniform and even some from his time in Vietnam. I have photos of him and my mother as a young couple playing in the yard with their puppy, the puppy that grew in into the crotchety old dog I knew as a child. I love all these photos. They give me a history. And when your father dies young—and when you’re young—a history is something you yearn for.

Honstly, this is one of the reasons why I have this little online space here. I feel like no matter what happens, it will give my children a history. And not just a history, but my voice. If all goes as I hope, and my children grow up knowing me and loving me, they will be able to read my history and their history and see who I was as a person, which is something I would dearly love to have from my father. (Or my mother, for that matter, and she’s only a phone call away.)

Even though I don’t have that kind of narrative about my dad, I do have incredible albums full of photos. My favorites are the ones of him with my sister and me.

In some of them he is gazing at us, his love evident in his eyes. Those photos mean so much to me. I can’t hear, nor can I remember, him saying he loved me. But I know he did. I can see it. In some he is laughing with us, his joy evident in his face. Again, I can’t remember these times, but the photos show me that they were there. They show me that I made him happy.

In at least one photo, he is sitting on a couch staring off into the distance and he is casually holding a baby me in the crook of his arm. I imagine that he was bored or watching TV and not really thinking of me. But that posture, that casualness, means almost more to me than the photos in which we are laughing together. His natural comfort and the way that I just fit in his arms speaks to me. It says that he isn’t just a mythical Father Who Died Too Young. He was a father who simply Was. He simply sat with his children. He lived with us.

I see the same posture in Alex, and in fact have photos that are remarkably similar to the one I described above. I know how Alex felt in those moments with his own kids, and I know how much he loves his children. And it comforts me.

I’m shaking a little as I write this, because I don’t talk about my father much. I was too young when he died, and because my parents divorced when I was four, I didn’t even live with him for the last few years of his life. I didn’t understand his death and it wasn’t until the death of a friend of mine years later in high school that the reality and finality of it all really hit me.

Even writing “Dad” as a name seems foreign to me. I can’t imagine talking to my mom or my sister and saying, “Dad did…” or “Was Dad…?” I rely on the “my” that prefaces “dad” to distance myself. And I can’t use that with my own family, so he is not something we talk about often. I don’t blame anyone or have any anger about this. It is just how it is. But sometimes it is difficult to not be able to talk about him and learn more about him because I don’t know how to talk about him.

So instead I occassionally go through my old photos and I study his face and his gestures and the smiles and the hairstyles and the clothes in the photos. And I study the sentences he wrote on the back and try to eke his personality from them.

I don’t know my father’s voice. I don’t have good memories of his face or of things we did together. But I have these photos. And they are my history.

37 thoughts on “History

  1. Oh my gosh, now I am crying. Photos and family history mean so much to me — I have photos going back to the Civil War in my family. We are Photo People. We have videos and audio recordings as well. Is it possible that someone in the family might have audio tape of your dad? Or old letters? This is just a precious post – thanks for opening up to us. And yes, I do hope our children appreciate our blogs as a form of capturing family history. I could go on and on — I have a friend who also lost her father at a young age and if you ever need someone to talk to about that, I could put you two in touch. Hugs.

  2. I take a lot of pictures of the boys doing everyday things. Those are the things you lose, but they are also the ones that really matter.

    When I look at the wide array of photos I have of my family, and realize that many of these people I know in only the most superficial sense at best- it seems odd to go looking for them, especially after they are gone. There aren’t many photos of every day things, especially the farther back you go. It becomes harder to understand who these people really were. More often, they stand about in little clumps in front of buildings I sometimes can locate, smiling out at me in a staged sort of way.

    I’d much rather have photos of them being themselves, instead of vague images awash with the mists of time.

    **HUGS**

  3. I’m sorry about your Dad, Stimey, but so glad you have those photos. I have the same reason for blogging – I want my kids to always know what I was thinking about when they were young and to hear my voice, just as you said. You know…just in case. *shudder*

    Hugs to you.

  4. I’m so sorry…I’ve never heard you mention your dad before and had wondered…I think it’s great that you have lots of wonderful photos to look back on. I’d be happy to scan your photos for you if you want!

  5. Oh my. That was just lovely. I never knew about your dad.

    My FIL died when Andy was 11 (leukemia). Andy remembers him as an 11-year-old boy would. We say God-blesses with our boys every night and always include “Grampa-up-in-heaven.” It gives them a grandfather – and a history.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  6. I’m sorry you lost your dad so young, stimey. This was a lovely post and your kids are so lucky to have such a funny and sensitive mom. I like your thinking about keeping the blog in part so that they can know you even better one day. Lots to love. {hugs}

  7. That was lovely.

    I am blessed to still have my dad with me, but he lost his own father when he was about 10. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can see how hard my dad worked to be a good dad. He learned early on how much a father means to a child, and he took it very much to heart.

    It sounds to me like you’re cut from the same cloth, and believe me, that’s one of the highest compliments I have to give.

  8. totally moving post – i’m a little sniffly. i’m glad you’ve got the pictures.

    (my father was a marine, and was tickled when my daughter was born on the marine corps’ birthday.)

  9. *whoosh* Stimey, this is so deeply affecting and beautiful. You are fortunate to have not only the photographs but the context of your own marriage and life with Alex to help you see the subtle expressions of love which surely were there in those simple moments with your own father.

    Sending you hugs today. xo

  10. My dad died just before I turned 7. You put into words something I have been trying to describe to people for years. Its kind of comforting to hear that others feel the same way about saying things like “dad” or some of the other things you said. Beautifuly put

  11. My mother-in-law lost her father when she was 11 or 12, and I know the loss affected her deeply. Sometimes she says that Rich (my husband) really reminds her of her dad, and I think she takes comfort in that. I love the way you get the same kind of comfort from seeing Alex with your boys. What a treasure those pictures are to you and your families.

  12. Pretty amazing the emotions an image can bring up for you, isn’t it? It’s such a good thing you have the pictures to help you retain the memories you have. And your blog – well – your kids will have a wealth of memories as well as insights about who Mom and Dad are in a way they could never learn without your writing. It really is a wonderful gift for them.

  13. Wow, Stimey. Just wow. My FIL died suddenly at 47 when DH was only 4 (and DH was the youngest of 9 children). He also has no memories and only 1 photo that has both he and his Dad in the same photograph. That photo is carefully preserved in a scrapbook I made, but I am getting up tomorrow and scanning it and saving it in a million different places, thanks to you.

  14. @ Ashley: I’ve never been able to find your email address, but I wanted to respond to you because in a way we are sisters, kindred spirits. I’m so sorry about your father. I wish it wasn’t that way for either of us. Hugs.

  15. this is beautiful. i am so glad you have those precious pics of your dad, and that you realize what they mean. thank you for sharing this.

    i write about my mom on my blog a lot, but i don’t talk about her too much with friends and family. too hard.

  16. Wow! I’m sorry I didn’t ask about your Dad when you mentioned he had died when you were young when he came up at BlogHer. I wanted to ask but am always afraid of what asking might bring up.

    I love that you have carved out a little piece of the blogosphere for your own children to create history and memories for them. I think that your blog will be something to be treasured always.

    Sending tons of virtual hugs at least until the next time I see you!

  17. This is really beautiful. My dad’s dad died when my dad was 6 (and I don’t think he was a very good father before that). My grandmother never remarried and one thing that has always amazed me about my dad is how he is such an amazing father even though he had no role model for that.

  18. I love this post. This is exactly why I think photography is so important. SO important. I’m glad you have images of him, at least.

    I love old photos and the notes on the back especially. I’ve spent hours going through them and they are my favorite thing I have of my grandmother’s.

    Also this has given me an awesome idea for a photo post at Blogher so thanks. : )

  19. Thanks for sharing. So sorry you lost your dad at such a young age. My dad passed away last year. He was 64 and I always say too young to die, but at least I had him for 30 years of my life.

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