A let­ter to Dad for Fa­ther’s Day

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY GINA BARRECA Gina Barreca is a pro­fes­sor of English lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut.

Be­cause the dead don’t leave for­ward­ing ad­dresses, Dad, I’m not sure where to send this, but I’m writ­ing any­way in cel­e­bra­tion of Fa­ther’s Day. I’m once again prov­ing your point: I’m re­lent­less if I’m de­ter­mined to make it hap­pen.

So you died a few years ago. So what? That doesn’t mean we no longer have a re­la­tion­ship. Life and death aren’t all that easy.

I con­tinue to talk to you in my head, although per­haps less reg­u­larly than I did when you first

passed away. A dozen years ago, I saw you and heard you on every block in New York City.

Every Ital­ian or Jewish man over age 80 with a slight build, grey hair and dark eye­brows who wasn’t wear­ing a base­ball cap – you never wore a hat in your life – looked like you.

I used to smile warmly at them, but th­ese days, if I smile at men that age, they look at me in a way that makes me think they imag­ine I’m go­ing to ask them, flir­ta­tiously, if they want to come over to my place so I can make them some nice brisket.

So while I no longer catch glimpses of you all that of­ten, when I hear a cer­tain kind of wise­crack or songs that you liked, you’re still right there, and I greet you with­out em­bar­rass­ment.

The songs that you sing along with on the oldies sta­tion as I’m driv­ing with the win­dows open are “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” “Stuck In The Mid­dle With You” and “(Sit­tin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.”

That list makes me laugh. Th­ese are not ex­actly songs of a con­tented soul.

The wise­cracks that bring you back? Dad, you were of­ten at your best when you were at your worst. You were scathingly, cru­elly and in­sight­fully funny at the ex­pense of others. And “others” in­cluded me.

When I was in col­lege and I told you that I was tak­ing classes in ur­ban ed­u­ca­tion, hu­man sex­u­al­ity and the history of the im­mi­grant un­der­class, it took you less than two sec­onds to ask what ex­actly I was learn­ing at Dart­mouth that I couldn’t learn on 10th Av­enue.

But at that point, I’d also learned enough from you to be able to an­swer. I said that at Dart­mouth, un­like on 10th Av­enue, I’d get credit. You never laughed at a good line, but you’d nod your head and half a smile would ap­pear at the cor­ner. That was how I knew I won.

The odd thing is, of course, that I didn’t like you when I was a lit­tle kid. I saw you only as the per­son who made my mother sad.

In part, that was be­cause I hardly knew you, since you worked six and some­times seven days a week at the family busi­ness sewing and sell­ing bed­spreads and cur­tains, leav­ing be­fore I was awake and re­turn­ing home only an hour or so be­fore I went to bed.

The other con­tribut­ing fac­tor to my sense of dis­tance and of wari­ness, how­ever, is that I believe you re­ally were a lousy hus­band to my Mom.

There’s no rea­son not to be hon­est now, right, Dad? She didn’t trust you, and she prob­a­bly had rea­son not to. I was her ally, and you were the op­po­si­tion, if not the en­emy.

When she died, young, sad and un­rec­on­ciled to life, you and I were left in what had be­come a lonely and dreary house to sift through the wreck­age.

And we did, in ways that forged the fa­ther/ daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship that had never be­fore ex­isted.

I hope you can hear me now, or read me, or sense my wave in your di­rec­tion. You did the best you could to be­come a good fa­ther to a tough daugh­ter, and I did my best to make you proud.

We did just fine, Dad. Just fine.

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