For Dillon: A Birthday Rumination from Dad


I admit it, Kiddo.

I'm not as sharp as I used to be,
and neither are my memories of you.
The effect of advancing age, I expect --
and stubborn self-protection.

That said, a few things still cut
close to the bone.
Your birthday, for example, 
March eighth, 4:44 p.m.

Those tiny, bloody fists, 
trembling, flailing, furious 
(at the loss of your cradling salty sea,
at the intrusion of the baying lupine world?)

Equally keen comes the tart memory 
of your lemon-puckered adolescent smirk,
your sour disdain sufficient to sap 
the last drop of my limited patience.

And how could I forget your appalling 
table manners, that cacophonous slur
of sibilant slurps, your "kiss my ass! 
These eats are seriously good!" attitude? 

Or the deathbed rattle of your 
unconscious gasps thirty-four years later, 
those "for god's sake, enough already" 
final sighs and moans?

These things slice sharp and true.
Others, not so much. 

And yes, sometimes there is guilt 
in this creeping forgetfulness. 
After all, what kind of father 
lets his son slip away like that?

What kind of Dad doesn't go the last mile 
for the sake of blood?
My kind, I guess. The selfish kind
(as you and your sister must've thought)?

The kind who clings to a well-rehearsed refrain: 
"I have a life, too!" and just won't let go?

But just so you know: I sometimes feel the sting of it --
enough for a good wallow in charges brought against me: 
Such a shocking lack of fatherly compassion! 
Such a breath-taking display of self-indulgence!

(Ah, thank god for self-deprecation -- 
Surely the penultimate in pre-emptive strikes!)

But, in fairness, Kiddo, what self-pleasuring 
has ever been more sating, more ratifying than, 
"Oh my god, s/he/it is so much worse than I"?  
I mean, isn't judgment the essence of human nature?

And yes, I know that all sounds exculpatory.

Nevertheless, here's the point I'd like to make --  
call it a birthday wish if you want, 
albeit a self-serving one, I'll admit:
I hope to do your memory the justice you deserve. 

And allow myself a modest measure 
in that as well.

I'd like to reconcile the limits 
of a love that couldn't save you, 
or keep you sane and safe 
in this broken-hearted world.

I'd like to entertain the notion that perhaps -- 
just perhaps -- not everyone born in love 
was meant to linger in this life, 
not everyone suited to the long haul?

And that what transpired between us -- 
all the despair, the loss, the grief --
was a lesson in the rightful margins of love, 
yours as well as mine. 

I like to think that I'm on to something here.
But it's a hard sell -- even for me; a bit too inchoate, 
too lenient, too wishful thinking? That said, Birthday Boy, 
I'll try for any port in this lingering storm.

About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in Washington State.
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