"Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old."
When my sixty-five-year-old father revealed his new ink at the tavern he once owned, Mr. S took one look and said,
"Hey, it's another way for them to identify the body in a couple of years, right?"
and he laughed.
When he showed it to me, my heart caught--I saw the bold, "IRISH AMERICAN", the crossed flags for his crossed identity, and the ribbon running through the bottom proclaiming the date my older brother was born...but not the date he was lost to us. This was right to me--adding fresh ink to your body as a "senior citizen" should only remind of beginnings. The concept itself, of the Irish, the American, the remembrance--this image shows you my father more clearly than a photo of his face ever could. In that, he might smile--but, more likely, he'd hold his mouth in a thin line--eyes warm and dark, but cloaked with a layer of introspection and self-preservation I can recognize in my own mirror every morning.
We have had a challenging relationship, he and I. Some things can be shared here and some are kept tucked close in the pocket of my heart--little slips of paper, of rememberings, peeking out from between its folds like prayers in a wailing wall. That I love him--this I have never once doubted, even for a moment. But, our relationship isn't the one so many of my friends have where Dad is a confidant and a rock you can lean against--hard--whenever you need steadiness beneath your feet. There aren't deep confessions whispered on a candle lit patio or tender "Daddy's girl" snuggling on wedding dance floors. For us, there aren't even holiday dinners or weekly phone calls. And yet, I know that I am inked in his skin every bit as deeply as his heritage and his memories are. I know he carries my siblings and myself in the hollows of his bones.
Yes, it is true that my children do not know him as they do their paternal grandfather (who is a generous and kind man)--but, my interactions with my father--both dark and light--have shaped their mother, and so our story filters down through the generations. I wanted to tell him last week, our first visit or conversation in a couple of months, that his new tattoo inspired me because it shows that time hasn't diminished him--hasn't curtailed his growth. Getting fresh ink at a stage when others are retiring and slowing down makes me proud of the wild expansive center of who he is. I wanted to thank him for it, oddly enough, because it reminds me that whatever stages lie ahead for me, I always have the opportunity to choose the unexpected.
Instead, I asked to take a picture and said not, I love you, but, "I love it," hoping--as I always do with him--that the silent words between my words will say enough.