Reading with My Father: Living in Libraries and Saying Goodbye

My father was a huge reader, and his love of reading spurred my own. There was never a day that he didn’t have a book in his hands. When he died, it wasn’t just his family that mourned. His funeral was full of librarians. They grieved not only for the loss of a prolific reader, but for a friend. The library was his refuge. On Saturdays he would make the rounds and visit at least 3 libraries. As a child I would accompany him on his pilgrimage. Feeling so proud when the librarians would comment how I was taking after my father. “Such a good reader! Just like your father.” That meant everything to me.  Each librarian knew him by name, and would have books waiting just for him. Some would even take their breaks just to talk with him. As a child I thought he must have been so important. Now that he’s gone, I realize how important he really was.

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He was a great father. A little lost in a family of all girls. Unsure of what to say for advice and scared of us all growing up. Conservative in his views, but as we grew, those views changed. I was scared to come out to him because for years I thought that he wouldn’t accept me for who I was. I needed our relationship to be the same, I couldn’t afford having him feel like I was less than his daughter. So I waited. I kept thinking, “one day, one day I will tell him.” I waited too long. I told him when he was losing the battle, hoping to make him fight. But he just smiled at me and laughed. He knew the whole time.

He was the reason I did most things. Most of the quirks I have come directly from him. I carry books everywhere I go because of him. I constantly wash my hands, I have more washcloths than necessary,  I put pledge on every single wooden surface in my apartment whether it needs it or not. I spend more money on sunscreen than food.

As the cancer affected his body and mind, he wasn’t able to enjoy reading. In that moment I knew that he was losing the battle. To love something so much and then to not be able to enjoy it must be so frightening. It was like another type of death. The cancer ravaged his body, destroying his way of life. Destroying a relationship. And when he died, it was almost a relief. He was finally free.

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I realize that I’m not just bringing a book along to read, I’m bringing a memory. A memory of a man that left us too soon. He never saw my success, he never saw the realization of my dreams. I know he would be proud of me, but it isn’t the same. I don’t think it will ever be the same. I need to accept that he is gone, but I get reminders of him every day. Each day I walk into work, passing the stacks of nonfiction on my way to my office and think, “He would have loved this place.” I don’t think I will ever truly say goodbye to my father. I don’t think anyone actually moves on after a death of a loved one. Memories play hide and seek in your life, and pop up in unexpected places.

Today would have been his 72nd birthday and today I accept that he will never come back. But I also accept that he will never be truly gone from my life. Happy birthday Dad, I wish you could see all the books published since you died. I will always miss you.

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