The Gift

My dad left us when I was eight. He and my mother separated more or less amicably. My sister and I spent frequent Divorced Dad Sundays with him in San Francisco before he moved away and settled in New York. After that, fifth grade through high school, I saw him here for a few weeks every summer.

Those weeks were always awkward and strained, but as the only thread of a relationship we had left, they were important to me.

When I turned 18 I left San Francisco for New York, primarily to be closer to my dad and to try to repair our fractured relationship. I wanted to have a father again.

In the years after he and my mom split up I thought that his leaving was a reflection on how he felt about me. I thought he had regretted having a family; that he didn’t care; that he didn’t think about me much at all.

I told this story at Paul Lukas’ Show and Tell open mic show at Cabinet Magazine in Brooklyn on March 15, 2012. (Duration: 4:23; Download MP3)

Even after I came to New York, where we now both lived in the same city, I still only saw him once or twice a year. I still didn’t think he cared that much about me, or about seeing me.

Then, when I was 21, I met him for dinner one night around my birthday and he gave me this. It’s a sculpture of Noah’s Ark. He had bought it on a trip to Peru.

It was such a weird thing for my father to give me, this sculpture. He rarely gave me gifts. I’d usually get a card in the mail with a check. But something about it had made him think of me.

Almost every animal on the ark has a twin. There are two giraffes but if you look closely you’ll see that one of the giraffes has a broken neck. At some point, as it was being transported by my father from Peru to New York, presumably in his luggage, the protruding head of this little giraffe snapped off.

While I don’t like thinking of the momentary distress he must have felt when he discovered the damage, I do love the thought of his rushing out and buying a tube of Krazy-Glue and painstakingly gluing the giraffe’s neck back together. He did a terrible job of it, which makes it all the more charming to me.

What this sculpture is is a piece of evidence. It’s proof. Proof that my father did think of me even when I wasn’t sitting directly across from him in a Manhattan restaurant. Proof that he was interested in fixing things.

If my house ever catches on fire, this is one of the few things I’ll try to grab on my way out.

My dad died in a car accident two months ago. Since so many people wanted to speak at his memorial service, I had to keep my eulogy short, which meant cutting out a lot of stories I wanted to tell about him. This was one of them.

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