It was Father’s Day, in the year of our Lord 2010.

In the 101st year since my father’s birth, in the 64th year of my father’s fatherhood, in the 60th year since my birth, in the 14th year of my fatherhood, on the first Father’s Day without my father’s physical presence in my life, I was lost.

I know my geography: my longitude, latitude, city, street address, phone number. But the things that you teach a child so he can be identified and returned to his proper place have no meaning now.

My father’s name and cemetery plot location will not be enough for the police to bring me home.

I am an orphan.

And though this is the nature of living, the natural order of things, it is not what I want. It is not comfortable for me yet. I wonder if it will ever be. I prided myself on my independence for so many years.

But in truth it was a ruse. There was security knowing that my father was there, even when it was me taking care of him, bringing him to the doctor, buying his clothes, taking him out for ice cream or french fries or fried clams at Ken’s on Father’s Day.

He was there, solid, even in his frailty. He was there to see and to touch and to kiss goodbye. And today there is only a bare patch in the grass at the cemetery to see, only a stone cross to touch. There is no one to treat to fried clams. No one to sit on the beach with. No person I can point to and call “my dad.” Now I have only memories to keep him near.

In the last years I would go to see him on Sunday afternoons at the nursing home. His greeting never varied. “Can we go for a ride?” he would ask.

I don’t think he knew me as his son any more. I was his driver. But he was still my dad. And his childlike enthusiasm for a simple ride in the car made it easy for me to know what I could do for him. “Sure,” I would reply, and if I looked carefully, I could still see a glimmer of the old twinkle in his eyes.

Now, the passenger seat was empty. But as I drove past one of the ice cream places where we used to stop, I automatically turned in.

We had a ritual. I would always ask in a loud voice to overcome his deafness, “You want some ice cream?”

“Yes, that would be all right.”

“Maple walnut?”

“Yes. Or vanilla if they don’t have it.”

I only stopped at the places that had maple walnut. I never liked maple walnut, but I used to steal a bite of his before handing it to him because he often didn’t finish even a small dish. Now, I bought a small dish of maple walnut for myself. It’s really pretty good.

My cousin Betty once bought my dad some fish and chips. “He raved about them,” she said.

His taste buds were fading and he wasn’t in the habit of raving about food, so this seemed a bit odd to me.

“Ah,” I said, recalling an old story of his. “He wasn’t eating those fish and chips you bought him today. He was eating fish and chips from when he was in England in World War II.”

It’s like that now for me and maple walnut ice cream.

It’s not really this ice cream that I’m tasting. It’s that stolen bite I used to take before handing the dish to my father. 

– Special to the Telegram