Had he lived, President Kennedy would have turned 100 this year. There have been television specials dedicated to this as well as think pieces, interviews, and more marking this milestone. Among these was a statement by Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s lone surviving child who said, “I miss my father every day.”
Miss my father, I thought. Every day, I thought.
How is this possible? I also thought. She was five years old when died. How do you miss someone who only physically existed in your world for such a small portion of time?
In an in instant I recalled my vivid recollection of that horrible tragedy, forever seared in my own memory. Of course, for Caroline that was a personal, life-changing event. I remember my father taking me to the Capitol Rotunda, waiting in line on a frigid night to see the flag-draped casket of her father lying in state.
Both Caroline and I miss our fathers, whom we know had much more life to live, gone prematurely. Hers felled by an assassin’s bullet, mine nearly 26 years ago by cancer. Even though my dad had just turned 60 when he died, I knew that he had at least another 25 years left. (I, like most children, was also completely convinced that he was immortal and would never die under any circumstances, so there’s that.)
But I think about when I was five and what I remembered of my own father. Every Saturday, he would sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, which was a treat—most mornings, he was off to work without the time to read. I, full of ridiculous gratitude and joy at his mere presence, always bounded downstairs in PJs. I would pull a stool up to the back of his chair, where he sat pretending not to notice that I was there at all.I would stand on the little stool, stretch up onto my tippy toes, and I would vigorously rub his head, like it was for good luck. I remember how he smelled, recently awakened from slumber.
Yes, I realized. It is entirely possible.
On this Memorial Day, that was what I thought of: Both of our fathers, veterans of World War II and Korea. I could see exactly how Caroline – how we – could remember and miss both of our fathers even though they left us so very long ago.