He could be a benevolent presence always

Some exciting news is that I’m going to be moving into a barn.

We’ve been renovating our barn-slash-garage into a loft apartment, and now it’s in the final stages. Lately I've begun interior painting.

Pine floor entryway... plus evidence from the essential cocktails-while-painting phase of the project

Pine floor entryway... plus evidence from the essential cocktails-while-painting phase of the project

The other night nostalgic rock hummed on the radio while I sipped whiskey and rolled creamy white onto the walls of the downstairs entry.

Then I dripped some of that creamy white onto the new pine floor. As soon as I did it I heard Dad’s voice in my head. He said, “Pay attention to what you’re doing.”

Which right away made me feel bad.

It’s not just the painting. Recently I’ve started to notice the ways Dad’s voice appears in my head. When it appears it’s usually not super encouraging. It leaves me with the stinging feeling of needing to be different or better than I am.

I've been thinking about that lately.

It’s true that Dad had plenty of capacity to be sharp with me when I made a mistake, but my memory of that particular side of him has somehow grown in proportion since he's been gone. It's like a red oak tree that shoots up and out to occupy all the vacant sky, crowding out tender green shoots below.

Because actually Dad had lots of sides to him, as we all do. He loved to laugh, and he was good at laughing at himself. He was trying to worry less and enjoy life more. He was proud of me – something that’s hard for me to put down in words like that, but he was. He was proud of me. And the man knew how to enjoy a fine summer evening by fixing himself a dry gin martini and sitting out on the patio.

And yet what consumes my memory is the most difficult side of him.

Except! It doesn't have to. That's the thing I realized last week and it made me stare straight ahead without blinking and wonder why I hadn't thought of it before.

I can choose!

Well, I mean, I can’t choose to have a martini with him on the patio tonight, clearly. He’s not here for that.

But I can choose to remember his goodness most of all. I can do that. I can prune back the overgrown recollection of how he was sometimes callous or judgmental. And then I can nourish the memory of those gentler qualities, and let them grow in place of the other.

Instead of chiding me to pay attention to what I'm doing, Dad can be a benevolent presence, with me always. He can be right here at my shoulder, admiring this spiffy new barn apartment that will soon be my home. We can inspect the gambrel ceiling together, and then watch the flood of golden afternoon light and gaze at the view from the window out to the green fields beyond.