The Midnight Sun
The Good Life
Take me. I'm yours.
The Way Home
We Take Care of Our Own
The Holy Days
Fall On Me
Bringing It All Back Home
Learn to Be Still
Love the One You're With
Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 86. His 80th birthday was his last one in this particular birthday suit. We were all together, here at the Jersey Shore, in a rented duplex at the ocean’s door step. My father was a deeply loyal man to the ideal of family and knew this was the best way to celebrate. His relationship to his own siblings, all his life, was a very strong bond. His brotherly love for his two sisters, who outlive him, was quite inspirational. I was envious of their intimacy and love.
In all the years since that memorable time together, except one, I have been in Alaska on August 3rd. The exception was the first birthday after his death. I was in California at a retreat and my heart was very tender, my grief still very raw and all consuming. I asked him for a sign. It came that first afternoon when I went to the pool for a dip. Alaskans are always the first and last ones in the pool. Walking on the hot concrete towards a lounge chair, I happen to glance down while passing a piece of pool equipment. There, in big letters, was my father’s name: ROCKY. I took a picture as evidence.
Since that time, I did not have many “experiences” of my father’s presence around me or in my dreams. That all changed last year. Moments like these don’t need to be believed by others to be real for the one experiencing them. One time though, I was blessed to have my beloved friend with me when it happened. We were dining out and I was talking about my father and in an instant the hair on our arms went up, the air around us changed, the temperature too and as we looked at each other speechless, a denseness passed through me. “He’s here,” my friend said. I knew he was right.
Last May as my travels began to take shape externally, after nearly two years of internal preparation, I began to experience my father’s presence with regularity. I’m convinced he had a great deal to do with the larger pieces that got moved around so as to make this sabbatical possible. The refinancing of my mortgage, the guidance around turning my home into a rental and of course the purchase of my car. However, here in the home I grew up in, I notice that I have been carrying in my heart an underlying tenderness to the empty spaces he left behind. Like with so many pieces from my past, this too has been waiting for me to come sit with it, learn to hold it and ultimately let it go so as to transform it into something lighter and more lovely. I'm still working with that alchemy.
Today, as a way to honor my father, I walked down the aisle of St. Mary’s Church with my mother, carrying the pitcher of wine, she the communion wafers, towards the altar. The last time I walked past those pews, I had my hands on his coffin, which sat upon a sort of gurney, and along with my family and nephews, precariously steered the wheels towards heaven. I needed a new memory. Though no longer a practicing Catholic, I have always felt connected to the rituals I grew up with and felt very drawn to join my mother in this act. She too misses him, her husband, as much as I do the man I call my father. I passed the pitcher of wine to the priest and escorted my mother back to our seats.
Upon returning, I spoke with his oldest sister, Ann, who is 94 and found out that she had a mini stroke. She talked about last week’s time with her family at the Jersey shore, same beach area we were all at six years ago today. “I feel complete now,” her weak and shaking voice uttered. “I told my children I’m ready.” I cried silently and told her how much we loved her and how my father is wathcing over her. "I know he is," her trembling voice whispered.
I hung up the phone and told my mom we were going for a ride. I drove the 2 miles to the Frontier Room and we entered the darkened bar that had successfully shut the light of day out of its quarters. Raising our glass to the man we love, I was intensely grateful for my mother's presence, grateful she is still here. "Here's to Rocco Conte", she said. Happy Birthday, dad.