If I were in Arkansas today, the day that marks the second anniversary of my father's death, I would visit his gravesite. And I would dress in good clothes.
When he was alive, Dad always made sure he looked his best in public. Whenever he attended one of the performances in which I appeared during my youth, he made sure he looked good for the occasion. I loved him for that.
A handsome man to begin with, it wasn't difficult for him, but polishing his shoes and spending an extra 15 minutes on his thinning hair was a ritual I secretly admired. I may not have been invited to join him during the activities he enjoyed, but he (and my mother) always supported me when I stepped on the stage or marched on the football field. Like most men of his generation and upbringing, he wasn't vocal about his support, but he didn't need to be. His presence at these events was enough to let me know he cared and, most importantly to an insecure and diffident child, that he was proud.
And then, sometimes on the way back to the car after a performance, there was an occasional squeeze on the bicep or pat on the shoulder, a rare moment of affection that, always regrettably, made me flinch from the quiet ceremony with which it was genuinely offered. Despite my alarm, I lived for those moments. When they came, they were paragon.
During the last couple of years of Dad's life, when I was fortunate enough to spend quite a lot of time with him as he coped with his various illnesses, those precious moments became more frequent. We both discovered a renewed way of communicating. We both reveled in a marvelous and bewildering honesty that entered extraordinarily into our interactions. Literally, we could, at long last and with great ease, talk about anything.
And I made him laugh every day. Once I realised I could so, I made it my duty. On occasion, beset by fits of misery about his failing health, Dad's unshakable self-control succumbed unexpectely to tears. During those difficult moments, I struggled to fight back my own grief and did my best to console and bring him back from that horrible place in which he felt trapped. The weeping was generally short-lived, and over time I could intuit when the time was right for a joke or wisecrack. Somehow, that always worked for Dad. And fuck, he needed to laugh.
I miss the man. What I wouldn't give for one more squeeze on my arm.