For my latest post, I’ve decided to write about something very personal and important for me that I had yet to share on here.
A few days ago marked the one year anniversary since my father passed away, after a long bought with cancer. I won’t get into details about how it’s affected me because grief is complex and it is a long process, but I thought that as a tribute and a way to meditate on the past year and the time we had together, I’d share a list of common everyday things that remind me of my dad, along with memories to go with them. Many of these are silly but that’s what life is. It’s often the most mundane things that will get you reminiscing, making you smile or starting the waterworks.
The taste of coffee. My father loved coffee. He loved it even more than most regular coffee aficionados do. He abhorred Nabob and Nespresso, preferring strong Colombian or Ethiopian brews. Every morning he’d have a cup, or two, or three. When I turned 12, he started to make a cup for me before school. That new habit didn’t last for long because we learned that coffee gives me terrible heartburn and palpitations. I was sad, as I loved the moment we shared each morning. Eventually, I began preparing his coffee. It was a simple gesture but I was glad to make it for him because I new how much he loved it and that it was an important part of his morning schedule.
Funky clothing patterns. His wardrobe was filled with many tee-shirts and blouses with patterns each more colorful than the other. When I was a young kid in elementary school, I’d get really embarrassed at his taste in clothing. One childhood memory that I particularly recall is the time when my father came to a school assembly and went up to the front of the group to receive a gift in return for driving us to a book conference. I was super happy for my dad, but he was wearing a bright pink shirt so I cringed badly and actually felt a bit angry. Later in life, I came to love his kooky clothes and I’ve now adopted some of the patterns myself. I recently bought one pair of pants (seen on the right) and every time I wear it, I get lots of comments and I tell people that I was inspired by my father.
The smell of Nutritional yeast. My dad would probably be saying: ‘Yeast, really, that’s what reminds you of me?’ (followed by a laugh). I hadn’t seen this pungent yellow, unfortunately named powder in years but a week after my dad died, during dinner at a friend’s house, someone prepared salad dressing with it. Upon tasting and smelling it, I immediately imagined my dad. I didn’t know why but the strong, very particular odor and taste brought me back to my childhood. Weeks later I told my mom and she said that it was because my dad used to put some in his popcorn.
In October, I started working at a grocery store with a large bulk section, and among the various and spices and flours, I found the yeast. Right away, I bought a bag. Now, every time I open the bag, just to smell or to grab a bit to sprinkle on my salad, I remember us turning on the popcorn machine and putting in an old Chaplin film in the VCR. It reminds me of fun times.
Dry humor. My father had a great sense of humor, for years treating us to his bad joke of the day (he was only aloud to tell one). His type of comedy was a sort of cross between satire, sarcasm and wordplay. Like many other boys of his generation, he grew up reading MAD magazine so I believe this had quite an effect on shaping his view of the world. He also developed a fascination with comedy from Britain, especially when he spent some time living in London. Because of that, my brother and I grew up reading Giles and Doonesbury cartoon books and watching Monty Python films.
Cesaria Evora. Her soft voice cradled my childhood. My father was always humming and often times, he’d be singing the melody of one of her songs. The Barefoot diva was one of his favorite singers. None of us had any idea what she was singing about (in Portuguese creole), so to make us laugh, my dad would change the lyrics to some of her songs so that they were talking about us kids (Léa is too tired, Manu is too excited).
He was an avid music fan with a vast collection of CDs ranging all genres. At any time of day, our 5-CD player would be turned on, skipping seamlessly from the crooning saxophone of Louis Armstrong to the playful guitar of Georges Brassens.
Most nights, when we were all going to bed, he or his girlfriend would choose 5 albums to create a beautiful soundtrack to play along while we all fell asleep. The song that I most loved hearing was Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Nowadays, I can’t hear this beautiful, haunting melody without getting a bit misty.
Posters and paintings. On the one year anniversary of his passing, my aunt wrote that his gentle spirit was still with us. Even though I’m not a spiritual person in general, I do feel him still being there in many ways. He’s constantly in my thoughts, in my memories and in my heart. He’s also on my walls! Despite the fact that he never made a career out of it, my dad was very creatively inclined and he explored a few artistic practices, namely photography. I inherited this beautiful photograph that he took on the Champs Élysées in Paris. He’s right there, standing on the left, wearing his big beard, curly head of hair and over-sized glasses.
He was also very much attracted by creative people, with many of his friends being artists of some kind. His girlfriend of the last decade masters the paint brush very well and she made this funky family portrait (seen below) as a gift for my 20th birthday.
After he died, she spent months painting portraits of him, including this one which captures the deep bond between a father and his daughter.
I love this photo and have it up on my refrigerator. It is comforting to see the calm, loving energy he had, which shines right through his big brown eyes.
Loss is hard, without a doubt, but my father had an extremely positive and easygoing outlook on life and this optimism has stayed and blossomed in me. I’m thankful to have had such a wonderful father and to have had the chance to spend 24 years with such an incredible human being (who’s been called an angel on earth by atheists and believers alike!).
I love you Paul!