A Birthday

Pont du Carrousel, nuit


I bought a men’s sweater at Uniqlo over the weekend, an unfussy, slightly shapeless black wool button down number. I’ve been searching for one for a while now, for a go-to, grandpa sweater I could wear daily and actually keep warm in, as opposed to the sparkly, open-weave, ‘fashion sweaters’ women’s stores seem to be pushing these days. My favorite sweater is one of my dad’s, a dark green pull-over that somehow still retains the warm, musky smell of him. I try not to wear it too often, because I don’t want the smell to disappear, to wear off. It’s a comforting olfactory thing.

Today would have been his 76th birthday.

There are things you lose after eight years –the specific hum of his voice, the way he’d mindlessly stroke his mustache with his thumb and middle finger– and things you give up voluntarily; I can’t listen to more than the opening chords of Charlie Haden’s “American Dreams” without dissolving into tears, like some instantaneous chemical reaction. But there are things I’m fighting to keep, too, like the smell of his sweater, his love of Paris, and the solace of knowing that I am half of him.


The year I was eight, he was 56, and that number popped up everywhere for us. On street signs, on register receipts, and, once, as the name of a production company on the opening credits of a Riverdance VHS tape I had specifically asked for at Christmas (let’s not talk about that). We were laying on the sofa together, the VCR remote in his hand, and “A 56th Street Production” appeared on the screen, on top of a swirl of coral and blue tones.

“Oh look,” he said. “There’s my number again.”

That was 20 years ago, and it feels as vivid as if it were just two.


I’m wearing a black turtleneck, my new black sweater, and my dad’s watch, today, and having lunch with my brother. And I’m debating booking an impromptu trip to Paris in February, because I know my dad would have encouraged it.

Happy, happy birthday, daddy.

14 thoughts on “A Birthday

  1. happy birthday to your dad. it’s amazing how the years keep go by isn’t it? and what we remember most, how we grieve, the details we grieve. my grandfather will have been gone now 15 years on jan 1st and it seems impossible to me when i think about it – how am i here and he isn’t? and i suppose i am always surprised when i realize (again) that he isn’t here, because i always feel like he is.

    ps riverdance (snicker, snicker)

  2. For me,12:34 on the digital clock reminds me to say, “Hello, John” and miss him again. Some people just live on in our memories and our heart daily. Daddy is one of those people.
    You are half Daddy and his legacy will live on in you and Eric. I know you will keep it alive for your children as Eric has done with the girls.
    Happy, Happy Birthday, John.

  3. Je crois que ton papa était un excellent persona comment Paris est une ville magnifique ! Joyeux Anniversaire à ton papa, j’en suis sûre qu’il sera très fier de t’avoir comme fille et que tu deviens écrivaine ! xoxo

  4. I’m not really a crier, normally, but your posts about your dad always make me tear up. Happy birthday to your dad, he sounds truly wonderful.

  5. It always comes back to Charlie Hayden, doesn’t it? I think I’ll go put some on right now. For you, for me. For your day. Happy birthday to him. I’ll be thinking about you today.

  6. involuntary and voluntary memories, i love that. time may diminish many tangible details but it’s pretty amazing how some other memories remain so completely in tact. it’s in those thoughts where I think my dad is still very much alive, I hope you find comfort in the same. happy birthday to your dad, I hope you take that trip to Paris and find bits of him there with you. xo

  7. You write so beautifully. I love this: “the solace of knowing that I am half of him.” Yes, I get that. I too lost my dad too soon and I think the very same thing and it’s comforting.

  8. There is no debating a Paris trip, just go.

    Also I have a couple of my grandpa’s old sweaters and go through phases of wearing them- I love the memory and the classic feel.

    Happy weekend. :)

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