I didn’t start drinking my coffee black until after my father died. Turns out that’s the way he liked his coffee each morning, rain or shine, to start his day. It happened almost unconsciously. I gathered the materials to grind my own beans, pouring them into the hopper of my manual grinder, turning the metal crank over and over and over again to get the beans to crack against the plastic grooves. The coarse grounds drop to the bottom. I pour them into the coffeemaker that I’ve had all these years, a common $20 drip coffeemaker that I’ve grown to love, helping me to center myself on the days I feel like my worst.
I skip the refrigerator altogether, deciding at some point that I no longer need cream to change my cup. No longer need milk. “It’s an acquired taste,” my parents would tell me when I was a young boy. “You won’t like it until you do.”
My father likely make the same cup of coffee each morning. Same beans, same pot, some sort of routine to create some sort of order in his life. Something to get him started, seeing where the day goes, maybe another cup or two into the late morning if he didn’t sleep well, and I can’t blame him. Coffee is my first leap of faith. I rely on it in such a way, like the sun coming up each morning, and I never said it was the best habit. Just that it was necessary sometimes for me to feel like myself.
He would turn on the TV and listen to yesterday’s news, today’s, and something coming next, perhaps over and over again that he was never really listening at all. Never really registering what he was hearing, just that it was something that brought some sort of comfort, no matter the content. Our first real arguments were political, his and mine. I am product of a mother who loves hard and carries compassion for everyone she comes in contact with. Growing up, I simply couldn’t believe that George W. Bush was his politician of choice. As a young teenager, I was willing to fight any fight without fully knowing the gravity of what I was fighting for, only that there lies a certain regard for human experiences that his candidates of choice were callous to. We would go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until one of us grew weary and we agreed to disagree.
My father was a quiet man. A hurting man. A man who was always grappling with something, a character trait he likely carried until he closed his eyes the very last time. I have wondered often these last few months if his last sleep was peaceful, if he woke like very few mornings before with a sense of calm, letting the sunlight pour over his face, warming his body into aliveness. I wonder if that’s something he got to experience before he passed. It’s in this wondering that I find myself drawing comparisons to him more and more, which is something I would have never done in the 10 years before this very moment. I very much wanted to break away from the idea that my father needed to be in my life for me to live well. Miles of running later, I’m exhausted from my own unwillingness to reconcile, to mend, to heal. Mom tells me I’ve always had a big heart. There are spaces there that were meant for him. In his absence, I wonder how this could be true, how I could get it wrong so for long, and how it might feel like it’s too late.
Remembering depends on what we saw from where we stood. These days, I’m closing my eyes tight so that every memory of him can paint itself in the most vibrant colors. I’m re-writing a long-held narrative that he was never going to love me well and that he didn’t know me at all. So many of the things I’ve been telling myself about him was born out of hurt. Even if he was sitting across from me right now, I wouldn’t have the right words, the right questions, the right level of compassion to tell him what he means to me.
I’m hanging onto everything black coffee stood for in my father’s life: some sort of aliveness, of routine, of reality. I wonder what he would say if he could read these words. I ask myself what healing might look like these days. I hold onto my cup, sip lightly, and set it down. I am not my father’s son.