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.