The last time I saw my dad was in an urn and the time before that was unmemorable, only because I didn’t know I needed to remember it.
Up until about six weeks ago, I hadn’t given much thought to the concept of “legacy” because I’m 20. People my age are supposed to be getting drunk and making art and not thinking about who gets Dad’s stuff now that he’s gone. I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I don’t think anyone could be.
So far it’s not the big things that get me. Some days I say it to myself in the mirror.
Your dad is dead. He’s dead. Gonezo. Croaked. Kicked the bucket. Never seeing him again. Buh-bye.
I say it not because it feels good (it doesn’t) but… well, I don’t know why. I suppose just to remind myself that it really happened. I don’t know why I’d want to remind myself, but it seems like something that I might want to do for some reason.
So I do. And I cope with it just fine.
Then the other day I was driving down I-25 North towards the mountains, staring at that beautiful, scenic skyline, and it hit me —
“Dad won’t be at my wedding.”
I cried so hard it hurt.
And then I laughed, because I’ve never been one to care about weddings. I’ve often said I don’t intend to have one unless my then-SO wants it. I’m not one for tradition and generally avoid being the center of attention. It felt completely absurd to be so upset about my dad not attending something I don’t even care about.
But the idea of a wedding without him broke me.
I’ve been dating more and the prospect of a real relationship is closer than it’s ever been. And for the first time, I realized that whoever I date/marry is someone who will have never met my dad.
It’ll be on me to tell his story.
And what story am I going to tell?
Do I sanitize it, highlight it, shine it up so that they get the very best version of him, the version I often wish I had? Or do I keep it raw, let my feelings shape a narrative he’s not alive to defend? How do I do justice to a man who was so great and yet so, so flawed at the same time?
When I found out he passed, my gut instinct as a writer was to write. I wanted to tell everything — who he was, how he was, how I felt, what he did wrong, what he did right, what I’d miss, what I wanted everyone to know — but after quite a few attempts at quite a few angles, I realized that I didn’t know what to say.
Did I even have the right to say anything?
It’s a tragedy to let such a rich story die, but when its characters are real and the impacts are real, the stakes are too high to risk not doing the story justice. And how do you even determine a just telling for someone who isn’t around anymore?
Even if I never share his story with the world, someday I will have to share it with those around me. How could I not? My dad’s upbringing has shaped everything I do. He’s in my vocabulary, my interests, the bony structures of my face. I can’t ignore the fact that for the better part of 20 years, this man was huge in my life.
What I say will matter. How everyone who knew him chooses to share his story will matter.
And what will his legacy be?
Bearing a dead man’s story is power. It’s knowing that whatever you say will go down in the books as truth, no matter how warped it is by emotion and perception and time.
Honestly, it’s not a burden I’m ready to bear. Not yet.
For now when dates ask me about my dad I say he’s deceased, and if any were to ask for further detail I’d keep it vague.
Not because I don’t want to keep his legacy alive.
But because if I’m going to keep him alive, I want to do it right. And doing it right means leaving time for the dust to settle so that I can see him as he truly was — not as I want to see him.