An Evening With My Father
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
An Evening With My Father
Connie S. Costa
On a warm summer evening in the early part of July, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with my father. My father and I sat, uncomfortable, around the picnic table in my parents' backyard looking at old family photos. We were not uncomfortable because we were sitting on the hardwood, backless picnic chairs. We were uncomfortable because of the silence. I could sense that this was going to be difficult for my father. He is a man of few words. His emotions stay hidden deep within his rough and graying exterior. He is most comfortable in his recliner with the remote control in one hand and the newspaper in the other, avoiding any kind of contact, physical or emotional, with those he loves.
My sister and I were planning the fiftieth wedding anniversary party for our parents and decided that it would be appropriate to display old family photographs for the party guests to enjoy. I went to my mom and dad's house that afternoon expecting to sit down with my mother and decide which pictures best told the story of our family. To my surprise my mother had stepped out of the house, leaving my father to take part in this experience. After my father and I had exchanged our usual greeting, "Hi, what ya doing" and "How are the boys?" I went to the closet where the family photographs had been placed, forgotten in deteriorating yellowing shoe boxes with the lids broken at the seams. The boxes were beneath the folded blankets and linens, crushed by their heaviness. When I finally found all of the boxes I carefully lifted each box down and carried them out to the picnic table in the backyard where my father waited for me, bored and dreading the thought of going through all of these old memories. We looked at photographs I had seen many times before, but never really clearly saw. It was during this time spent with my father I realized that there was more to him than just the person who raised me or the man who went to work everyday to provide for his family.
My father has spent the biggest part of his life working hard everyday. He provided well for his family. He made sure his family lived in a good neighborhood and had a beautiful home. He made sure that I had the clothes I wanted. He made sure I went on fun vacations. He provided all of the material objects I needed or thought I needed; he just didn't give me the one thing I truly needed . . . three little words. I don't remember the last time my father told me he loved me or that he was proud of me. So it is with this in mind that I realized how awkward this time spent going through our old family photographs might actually be for him, for both of us.
I slowly opened the first time-worn box and found pictures of relatives that I had never met. I asked my father who they were and how he was related to them. I expected only very brief descriptions; however, my father found a voice from within his quiet soul, a voice that surprised us both. He told me about these people in the photographs as if the flood gates of his memories had been opened. He talked to me about the pictures of his own mother and father, the one of them standing in front of the house they had just built. He talked to me about the pictures of his brothers and sisters and the mischief they made. I heard emotion in my father's voice as he described the subjects of these aging black and white photos. His eyes lit up and he became animated as he recalled his past.
As we went through the other boxes we found that time moved on. Now we were looking at the pictures of my mom, dad, sister, and me. Some of the pictures were of us at our home back in Ohio. Others were from family vacations in Florida. One picture was of my dad handing me the keys to a cherry red 1966 Ford Mustang on my sixteenth birthday. There was another photograph of my dad getting ready to walk me down the aisle before my wedding. We also saw the picture of my dad with his arm around me and his firstborn grandson. There were many pictures like this, caught forever on film only to be forgotten and hidden away in the back of a linen closet. It was at this point, after my father and I had spent several hours pouring over the bits and pieces of our past, I realized that my father did tell me he loved me, not with words, but in his own way, by his actions. He "told" me that he loved me and trusted me when he gave me a car on my sixteenth birthday. He "told" me he loved me when he gave me all those great vacations and the fond memories that go with them. He "told" me he loved me when he walked me down the aisle and gave me away on my wedding day, a glorious day he made possible and he "told" me he was proud of me and my accomplishments when he stood proud and straight with his arm around me and his firstborn grandson.
When the walk down memory lane had ended and I had taken out all of the photographs I needed to make the picture board for the anniversary party, I picked up all of the remaining memories and put them back into their tattered boxes. I put the boxes back in the closet where I had found them and closed the door. As I walked back through the living room to say good night to my dad, he surprised me with a peck on the forehead and a squeeze to my arm. I hugged him back and told him that I loved him. He told me good night and that he had fun looking at the pictures. With that he sat down in his familiar recliner, turned on the television and picked up the folded newspaper. I let myself out the front door, content in the knowledge that my father's actions rung louder than any spoken words I thought I needed to hear.