I pulled my car into a spot next to the motorcycle I thought was his, turned off the engine and gazed at the small apartment complex, realizing for the first time that I didn’t know his unit number. My dad had just moved into his new place, and though he’d armed me with something resembling driving directions (“Get off the freeway, and head toward the library. Then look for a big building that people might live in.”), I found myself just short of enough information to declare my journey a success.
I got out of my car and looked around, trying to decide what to do. This was in the time before mobile phones, so a quick call wasn’t an option. I took a few steps in the direction of the town’s main street and the corner bar he frequented, and then paused. It was a nice day. Overcast but warm with a soft breeze. The kind of day, I thought, that would mean my dad would have his windows open. Maybe even his front door. And so I paused…
Listening until I heard it, a yet unidentifiable melody carried on the wind.
When the notes hit my ears, I turned and walked toward them. Down a set of stairs in the rockery between the parking lot and the yard, around one building and half-way past another. The music grew louder and more distinctly Bob Dylan and I followed it up a flight of stairs and across a concrete landing until I was standing in front of a slightly ajar front door.
I did my best to discreetly peek into the living room, searching for some clue – a familiar piece of furniture; a Red Sox ball cap – that would verify my arrival at the correct apartment. My tentative knock was answered only by Dylan’s sandpapered mewl, which seemed to be taking a none-to-subtle jab at my predicament.
How does it feel
to be on your own
with no direction home?
I decided to consider the question an invitation to enter and nervously stepped into the living room, announcing my arrival with what I hoped was an unthreatening “hello?”. I realized I was going to have to speak up considerably if I wanted to be heard over the blaring stereo, and had opened my mouth to give it another go when my dad, still oblivious to my presence, walked out of his bedroom and headed down the hallway away from me, a single sock draped over his left shoulder.
This was something of a habit of his: sitting down to put on his socks, flinging one over his shoulder while he put on the other one, and then wandering around the house trying to figure out where the first sock had gotten off to.
He wandered into the bathroom and looked around, and then turned to walk back down the hallway toward the living room. He started when he saw me, and then giggled.
“You’re here! How did you find the apartment?”
“I followed the Dylan.”
He grinned. “That’s my girl.”
“Nope,” I corrected. “That’s my dad. And it’s on your shoulder, old man. Like it always is.”
My dad passed away waaaaay back in 2001. I spread about half of his ashes years ago, but was holding on to the last half in order to get the old man to Mexico to “retire,” like he’d always wanted. It doesn’t seem like it should’ve taken over a decade to make that happen, but it did. I think the fates were conspiring against me until it was just the right time.
That right time came recently, when I learned that my baby brother would be living for several months in Mazatlan. I knew immediately that this was it, booked my flight, and the two of us finally set our father adrift for his final adventure, together.
I’m sharing this story in eulogy, as a quintessential dad moment – and a memory of him that always makes me smile.
Adios, padre. How does it feel?