Father's Day is coming and that means feeling a bit of a twinge because I won't be celebrating Father's Day with my dad. He died when I was in high school so the holiday is a little different for me.
It's less about celebrating and more about remembering, but it is a celebration of my dad's life. My dad owned a junkyard when he was alive — a junkyard that his father owned before him.
As we know, scents are intertwined with nostalgia and the junkyard smelled like my father — car oil and grease and gasoline. In January 2007, nearly eight years after my father died, the junkyard caught on fire and half the building burned away, including my father's office. With it went all my father's racing trophies from Danbury Race Arena and the drawing I'd made for him as a child.
I'd already mourned the loss of my father years ago. It is, of course, a continuous process, but the major mourning period is over. Now I was mourning the loss of the physical representation of my father — his stuff. To boot, for a long time after the fire, the scent of my father disappeared from the junkyard.
The physical shrine we had for my dad — his office — was no longer. So when the anniversary of his death came around, the link felt a little severed. Through good fortune, I chanced upon the Golden Age of Trucking Museum in Middlebury one day and when I walked into the showroom, it was all around me — car oil and grease and gasoline and my father.
Every year after that, on my father's birthday, which is also the day he died, I would take a walk through the museum quietly and slowly.
When the Golden Age of Trucking Museum closed, the staff allowed folks to take home their purchased bricks from the memorial fountain outside the museum. My dad's brick read: "Robert Cura, A Simple Junk-Man," something my father had always wanted on his headstone, my mother told me. So even though we lost a good amount of the physical objects tied to my father's memory, there's new memory paths to be made.
Now that the museum is closed, I take the moments when they come. At a car show recently, I was walking through a field taking pictures of the cars and only once did I smell my father so I stopped, closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I stayed in that one spot until I couldn't smell him anymore and then I started walking again.
I stopped by the junkyard the other day and the familiar scent was back again. Time has a way of healing and restoring that which we used to know.
But there's a lot of things I don't know. Sometimes, when something big happens or when I'm going through some struggle, I think to myself: "What would my dad say if he were here? What kind of advice would he give me?"
Gil Scott Heron once said, "I believe that the spirits are your parents and their parents and their parents and their parents and they’re in your bloodstream and they run through your body constantly, and they want you to live on because they want to live on, and they are trying all the time to tell you [things] and if you just spend a few minutes with yourself, you will hear them."
Those quiet moments keep us connected to the ones we love when we can't just call them on the phone or stop by to say hi. We all have our ways of staying connected. My friend Ray remembers funny things his father used to say and that's how he holds on. I watch the movie "Big Fish" when I want to reflect on my father.
"Big Fish" is a fantastic and whimsical movie about a grown man coming to terms with who his father is as a person before it's too late. It's about a dad who is larger than life. The son says: "In telling the story of my father's life, it's impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth. The best I can do is to tell it the way he told me."
And I think that's the way all our memories are of someone who isn't with us anymore — glossed over by nostalgia and romance and it's beautiful.
"Big Fish" reminds me that misconceptions and unspoken words can continue on for a long time. In the movie, a son and his father hadn't spoken for years before the son came back, when his father was dying. Sometimes family members stop speaking to each other and after enough time goes by, maybe the reasons why people stopped speaking to each other become obscured by the sand of forgetfulness.
There were things I could have said to my father. There were things he could have said to me. But there wasn't any time. Instead, we had to make the most of the three weeks we had, from the time he went into the hospital to the time of his death. You make do with the time you have. And in the end, everything that we needed to say was said because we both knew it was all the time we had.
Anything else that wasn't said just didn't matter anymore because we came to understand each other in a way that was organic and beautiful. Because when someone is dying, every stupid thing doesn't matter anymore — every harsh word or dumb fight or misunderstanding ceases to matter. All that is left is a father and a child who love each other.
When you're celebrating Father's Day this year, with or without your dad, remember that it's all about dads who love their children and children who love their dads. We keep their memories alive by telling the stories of our fathers and like the dad in "Big Fish," our fathers become immortal.