Essay: Lost in the Moments
Most of us have pictures like the one below, pictures from childhood in which our smile is painfully genuine, a smile that cannot fathom the adulthood that awaits us. It is usually a moment that we wistfully say we'd like to return to, even though we don't remember the exact moment, nostalgic rather for an idea, not a memory.
My mother is behind the camera in this moment, and I'm sure she can recall the facts of the day, where we bought the matching sweaters, details that I was too young to comprehend, much less value the importance of. But I'm not nostalgic for my father when I look at this photo. I'm numb, really. I have not seen this man or heard his voice in nearly seventeen years. I do miss him, although it's the idea of him that I miss, the way we were in a time and a place that I can never return to, that I continue to lose pieces of as the years go by.
It is impossible to trace the hypotheticals of how life would have shaped and molded us, our relationship as father and son. I've often wondered if I actually lost my father at an ideal juncture in my life. He and I had been inseparable in my adolescence, yet at fifteen, I had reached that awkward stage of youth in which you begin to carve out your independence, despite having no concept of independence, all you'll one day wish you weren't responsible for. Still, I had yet to get my license, or seriously date a girl, or go off to college, or move away to another state, to distance myself from my father in that inevitable way, in the way that we all must become our own person.
My brother and sister are twice my age, and they had grown to know our father as adults. I don't talk to them much about our father, but I'd say they have regrets, things they would've said had they known that a Friday night in December would suddenly be his last. I do not feel regret because I was with him right up until the end, nothing left unsaid, no apologies necessary because I had yet to accumulate the mistakes that would later come. Regret, I believe, is an adult emotion, one that you can only feel once you've put enough life behind you to understand never being able to live it over, that moments in pictures are simply that.
If there is any regret or sadness to be found in my father's death, it is in the fact that I let his death teach me to shut out the world, which has created more regret and sadness than any death, for I have spent my first adult chapter avoiding the hurt that comes with loving someone more than yourself. If I am nostalgic for anything in that picture below, it is the unadulterated joy in that child's smile, a little boy in love.
And if there is any moral to be gained from that picture, it is in the respect I have for the men who nurture that love, for the men who spend whatever life they are given trying to make their child smile as genuine as that little boy, moment to moment, even if there is no proof of it in a picture. My father did that for me, for fifteen years, and the painful truth is that's more moments than many of us are given.