When it’s minus twelve degrees at the gas pump in the morning, you tend to count your blessings but you do so at the pace of stamping feet - short and to the point. Today my counting stops at number one: my father’s coat, a heavy, old-fashioned, insanely warm down thing that envelops me as I wait for the tank to fill. The coat became mine when we cleaned out my father’s last room. I took it for my son. But once it wrapped itself around me, I couldn’t seem to let it go, a metaphor for my struggle to release the notion that parents are supposed to live and care for us forever. I buried myself in that coat for days, my nose protruding from above the zipper as we managed the details surrounding my father's death; I enjoyed its comforting propensity to swallow me whole throughout all of the last, long winter as we awaited in vain for some instruction on how to live without him.
A year later, I have hauled the coat out again to protect me from this first January blast. The size and bulk of it are familiar, but the metaphor has slightly changed. I realize now that more of my father remains behind than I expected. Small rituals and sayings, old cocktail glasses, his paintings scattered around the house, a certain cheese and joke remind me of him daily and, like the coat, envelop me with memories of home. I have come to recognize that rich legacy of “being” that I have inherited from my father, a lifetime of acquired mannerisms come from watching my Dad be himself and emulating his best parts.
Over a decade ago, when I was diagnosed with what has turned out to be a mild and generally unobtrusive form of multiple sclerosis, my father visibly winced and said to me, “I’m sorry for the genes I gave you.” Wait, what?!? “Are you kidding me?!” I squawked. “First of all, MS is not hereditary and even if it were, I’d take it gladly along with all the other natural gifts embedded in my genes – your genes, Mister!” He shrugged off my ensuing list of genetic gratefulness: the indefinable artist eye and ear, the unmerciful creative drive, the analytical bent, the curiosity, the wit, a quiet empathy disguised, sometimes, by inappropriate laughter, the particular gifts and challenges of a closet introvert in an extrovert’s career. All of these assorted genetic imprints daily make me thankful to be my father's child… but heck, today it's cold outside. I’ll just settle and be grateful for his coat.