Happy Birthday, Dad

During my recent move, I found the picture to the left. It is a snapshot (taken by my grandfather) of my mother and father in the front seat of our car, with me in the backseat. Note lack of child seat and seatbelts (1972!). I am likely 3 years old, and this would be a 60’s Rambler that we owned at the time. My mother would have been 23 and my father would have been about 24 years old when this was taken. He was born sometime in May, though I don’t know the exact date. Tragically, he would be dead a mere two years after this photo was taken, which would become the most important event in my entire life.

Obviously, I did not know the man very well. What I do know comes second hand from my family, a history rewritten in the haze of memory and bereavement. It is a history like any other, one filled with mythologies, omitted details and outright revisionist fabrication. When people we know pass on, we shape them into what we wanted them to be, form them into projections of ourselves and often smooth the rugged complexities which made us love them in the first place. What we do know, or think we know, as offspring, is what remains in ourselves, that which makes us more like our lost parents than our friends, and proof positive that these people existed.

My father probably wasn’t nearly as fashionable as this photo suggests, though it’s a great picture. If he were alive today, I would be calling him wishing him a happy 63rd birthday.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

One response to “Happy Birthday, Dad”

  1. kim says :

    wow Pete, what a beautiful tribute to your dad…your words are so poignant and so so true…and ya know, despite the sunglasses, i can see a lot of your dad in you!

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