Not Seeing Him

Posted On: 11.29.09

not seeing him

Toddler is going through a phase. She is happy 99% of the time. But that other 1%? Her face crumples, she falls to the ground, a puddle of salty tears. When this happens, we crouch beside her, or pick her up. And we ask her what’s wrong. Every time, her answer is the same.

“I was sad because I didn’t see you,” she says, words so simple they are profound. So profound, they are simple.

And every time this happens, we tell her that we are always close by. We assure her that we will never leave her. We apologize for going into the other room without telling her, for disappearing for short times. We tell her we understand why she was sad.

I understand why she is sad in these moments. I do. I understand what it is like to look up, and around, and not see the person you want to see, you need to see. I understand the shivering panic, the stabbing sadness, in these moments when you feel lost, abandoned, utterly alone.

It is these thoughts, these most basic, childish thoughts, that cripple me most. There are cruel moments when life’s distractions thin out, when I look up, and around, and Dad‘s not here. And in these moments, like Toddler, I am devastated. In these moments, I just want to see him. His broad frame, his blue eyes. In these moments, I don’t collapse. I don’t cry. No. I hold it together. Always together. Precariously together, but still together. (Where do all those tears go when I don’t let them fall?)

I realized something this morning. Something I think I already knew. Something that has lingered just under that slippery surface of awareness. Something both haunting and comforting. I paced the living room of this place he loved deeply and lived fully, scanning old photos and relics, casually mining my family’s rich history. And I came upon a familiar thing. A pencil portrait I’d seen countless times. Of Dad. A young Dad. Somewhere between baby and little boy. Before I knew him. Before he knew me.

I stopped. I stared at that picture, studying its soft and familiar lines, blinking back tears. Through the blur of longing and love, something was suddenly and crisply clear: I see him every single day. Baby is the spitting image of young Dad. Those of you who know me, and her, in real life (isn’t all life real?) will agree. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe I am seeing something I want to see, I need to see. It could be. But I don’t think so. Not this time.

There is something magical about the fact that my little girl – who was snug inside me turning poetic somersaults while I whispered that impossible goodbye – looks just like he did.

I hope this is a phase.

I hope this isn’t a phase.

It is hard not seeing him.

It is wonderful seeing him.


Whom do you miss seeing?

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13 Comments for: "Not Seeing Him"
  1. Beautiful. This brought a tear to my eye. I have not yet had to endure the loss of a person so close to me. But I am missing my Aunt Fran, who is still with us physically but not in spirit. We consider ourselves lucky to know she has had 95 Thanksgivings where she has been 100% independent, healthy and amazingly with it.

    But her 96th, unfortunately, has marked a drastic difference. This year we had to pick her up from a retirement home rather than the apartment she’s lived in on her own for 40 years. This year she teared up several times as she looked into our faces and couldn’t find our names. This year she had an accident that completely demoralized her and made her ask us to take her “home” to the retirement home where she tells us she is bored and lonely.

    I never thought I would miss our entire family history being recounted ad nauseum. But I miss the woman behind that history – who amazed me with how together a 95 year old woman can be. Who never had a driver’s license and walked to the grocery store when she was in need of something. Who slept only four hours a night and was proud to be the oldest member of the congregation. I miss that woman, even though her body is still here.

  2. I truly understand where you are, Aidan. I was not close to my mother. My father went out of his way to get to know me, to build a relationship with me, as an adult, in my twenties, after he and my mother divorced following 30 years of marriage.

    We had a wonderful, loving relationship for three years. Only three years. Too brief. I spoke to him one Sunday evening on the phone, and the next morning he was killed in a car accident. I was your age when that happened. But I was single, my mother and I hadn’t spoken in years, and my dad was my “family.”

    I was devastated. I felt orphaned. Cheated. This giving, fun-loving, accepting man was just gone. And I think everyone who knew him and loved him felt the same. Cheated. Not only in the present, but cheated out of whatever future lay ahead, and should have been shared.

    My elder son is named after my father. And the remarkable thing is – he is and has been the image of my father at various stages. As a toddler, again as a child. I could look at that face and see my dad in him, and feel the love not only for my son, but for my father.

    At 16, he was the image of my father at 16. I found old pictures. I look at the beauty of the generations, each tenderly moving from one to the next, as they must. And for the bittersweet nature of it, there is still joy. How joyful for you, that you see your dad in your child’s face. And how much more you have to look forward to, as she carries bits of the people you love not only in the stories that you will tell her, but in her mannerisms, her expressions, her features.

    What a great gift – for both of you.

  3. What an exquisite post, Aidan. Thank you for sharing it.

    Like Kaela, I haven’t experienced Missing in the way you describe it. But I do know the experience of looking at my child and seeing, in the wrinkle of a nose or the twinkle of an eye, my own history and legacy all wrapped into one.

    I’ve gotten some sense from your writing here at ILI how special your relationship with your father was; what a magnificent thing to have him and the power of that bond reflected back to you in the image of your daughter.

  4. D

    I miss my dad as well as my mother in law, both of whom died suddenly too soon and whose spirits as well as their physical traits live on in my children. My son has my father’s warm smile and his uncanny ability to do arithmetic in his head. My daughter has my mother in law’s immense natural charm and way of making everyone around her feel comfortable. I do feel like having children is the closest we can get to immortality. I am not an especially spiritual person but I believe that parts of those I love live on inside my kids. As much as I miss both my dad and mother in law terribly and palpably feel the injustice that they never got to know my children, I take comfort every time I see a certain expression cross their faces or a mannerism appears.

  5. even though i’ve met baby only once, even i can see the resemblance! or at least i think i can.
    it is so powerful, the way these things echo through. and i can totally imagine that seeing – but not seeing – your dad in the face of your own baby is intensely bittersweet.
    my father sees his brother, who died tragically at 36, in whit’s face and he mentions it every single time he sees him.

  6. This made me a little sniffly; I can feel your longing through the computer screen.

    What a gift, to see your dad in your Baby…but I can also see how it would wrench your heart a little.

    I’ve lost 2 very good friends, 2 students, all grandparents and 1 9-week-old embryo in my life. I’d love to see them again. And while my grief was strong and horrendous to bear, it’s nothing compared to what I have in store when my parents pass. I cannot imagine.

    I love the portrait. It’s beautiful. As are the words.

  7. I’m new to your blog, visiting you after you stopped by mine. And so glad you did.

    This post is gorgeous.

  8. I miss 3 of my grandparents, and a handful of friends. I’m really scared of the day that I’ll miss my parents.

    Your posts amaze me. So beautiful!

  9. Jen

    Aidan, I know what it’s like to lose Dad. Ours died more than 10 years ago now. And it is like a punch in the chest that steals my breath away when I really let myself dwell and think about the loss. I can think about the man he was and all that I loved about him. I can talk to my children about him, the grandfather they will never know. I can look at photos of him, as a child and an adult. But when I think of the actual loss. Of his sudden death. Or about how HE will never know HIS grandchildren, I want to just scream. Break down. Shout about the unfairness of it all. Where do those tears go that we don’t cry?
    I’m sorry for your pain. And I am touched by the way you compare mourning to your toddler’s anxiety of being left. On a level, they are indeed the same.

  10. I have tears in my eyes after reading this. Because I really can’t imagine. But I do imagine all the time. I am so fortunate to have never lost anyone in my family that I felt close to. But because of my lack of experience I am so fearful for how I will be and how I will be for my mom and dad when they lose their mothers. I hope I’ve made enough memories. I hope I will be reminded by enough things surrounding me when they are no longer here. I’m glad you see your dad so often. It must warm your heart. And I’m sure it’s not a phase…

  11. I love seeing glimpses of our parents in our daughter’s expressions, it emphasises the miracle that is bringing life into the world.

  12. My father died when I was five months pregnant with my first child, a girl. She was with me when he bled to death in an ER, and we tucked an ultrascan photo of her into his pocket in his casket.

    She looked just like him as an infant. And then as a toddler. And tonight, at age almost-five, she looked up at me with his eyes. I saw him.

    You will, too.

  13. Lovely. So great to find you!!

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