You always mocked those euphemisms that skirted around death, so I mocked them, too.
“Has he passed?” Passed what, gas? Kindergarten?
“Is he still with us?” Always.
So, when people ask, I say you are dead, unless I’m feeling obsequiously appropriate.
Saying that word — “dead” — is an act of defiance. People you dislike and animals you don’t know are dead. Those you knew are “no longer with us.” Those you loved are in Heaven, or are in our hearts, or are waiting for us. So, when I’m feeling crass enough to say my father is “dead,” lashes blink a bit more rapidly, shoulders stiffen, eye contact breaks, hands clasp, panic ensues.
You bombastically disapproved of referring to death by any word but its name, so I did, and I do. Therefore, when people inquire, it is my birthright to press that you are dead — not passed. On the other hand, recognizing how uncomfortable this seems to make people, when I’m feeling charitable or kind or understanding or any other value you’d probably prefer I exhibit, I just say you’re not around. Even then, though, this seems disrespectful of you, because it seems that people then think you’re some sort of deadbeat dad. They’re right, in a way. (ba dum ch!)
Sometimes I don’t know if I name death in defiance, daring the world to challenge me, or if I do so in remembrance of you, and your own fight with the universe.. Honestly, the real question probably is not whether I’m motivated by one or the other, but how those motivations’ proportions shift at any given moment.
Today you are 94 years old. You are 94, not “would be” 94, because what’s a person, anyway? Just some fleshbag with a beating heart and working lungs and firing neurons? I guess if that’s what a person is, then, well, you would be 94. But if a person is a being who comes into this world and perpetuates, if a person is that proverbial tree in the forest, one who is recognized, if a person is a human who means something to those who are still live fleshbags, then, well, you are 94 today.
I am about to go to sleep, in my bed, burrowed in gross tissues and Westlaw printouts and cough drop wrappers. But tonight, like most other nights, I will fetch Nap from his hiding place at the bottom of my closet, and I will hold him close, and I will remember the day you gave him to me, and the comfort you both provided me ever since, and I will probably also remember that it’s really about time I ran him through the washing machine again. And I may be a little sad, but at least today is one of a handful of days in the year that the world will let me celebrate you without thinking I have an Oedipal complex.
So, Happy Birthday, Dad. You’re always here, and I always love you.