I wasn’t planning on writing about what I’m going to share today, but your dreams come upon you when they do. My father appears in my dreamlife now and then, perhaps once a month or so. Though sometimes he is a silent, peripheral character somewhere in the background of the strange moving pictures that are my dreams, there are times in which he plays a starring role, such as he did unexpectedly last night. I awakened briefly from deep non-REM sleep around 3 a.m. this morning and fell back to sleep, and then my movie promptly started. Here’s what happened.
It’s the dead of night. Everything is still. I’m walking down a dimly lit, gently sloped paved driveway carved through a wooded thicket, tall green trees on either side. It’s a casual, peaceful walk, which I’m taking with my dad, who strides next to me on my right. We’re having a conversation. He tells me, in his characteristically direct and blunt manner, that I need to stop walking with my hands in my pockets. “It doesn’t look good to do that,” he tells me. I consider his words. I’m a little taken aback by this reprimand; I don’t put my hands in my pockets anyway, and they aren’t even in my pockets now! But he’s my dad, and one thing I’ve always known is that he cares for me more than anything and just wants the best for me. I assure him that I will do my best to keep my hands out in the open.
We enter a home. It’s not our home, but it feels like it should be, and we enter it as if it is. The hallways are dark. We approach the light at the end of the main hall. It’s the kitchen, small and modest, reflecting the home’s rustic nature, darkened wood throughout, including the furniture and walls. Dad and I walk instinctively toward the rectangular dinner table inside. The only light in the room emanates from the small chandelier above us. It shines like an orange halo around the table, creating a hazy effect on the rest of the kitchen. I stand behind what must be my designated chair near the wall; Dad stands behind his near the kitchen entrance opposite me. We look down at the mounds of white rice on plates at the table. There is a plastic bottle of furikake (a Japanese seasoning made of sesame seeds and dried seaweed bits) on the table. Still standing, Dad takes the bottle, shakes some seasoning on his rice, and slips the bottle in his right pants pocket. I watch this and laugh, asking him why he’s putting the furikake in his pocket. He answers that he wants to bring it with him on his upcoming trip to New York, sheepishly pulling it out and placing it back on the table. It’s news to me that he will be traveling soon.
I look to my right, where the kitchen counters and sink are. There’s Mom. She is facing away from us and toward the counter, cutting up vegetables. Dad walks over to her. They are silent together as Mom continues her work. I follow and slowly wedge myself between them. “I wish you wouldn’t go,” I tell Dad plaintively as I stand snuggling with my parents, feeling the warmth of both of them close to me. “Please don’t go. Please, Dad. Don’t go.” Mom smiles silently as I speak, looking down at her cutting board. I understand that Dad doesn’t have a choice; he has to go away. Nonetheless, it is satisfying to tell him his presence is wanted, needed. I am the only person or thing that disrupts the silence in the room. There is increasing desperation and welling emotion as I continue to implore him not to leave.
That’s when I awakened abruptly, about 5:30 this morning, wondering how it felt so real, the surroundings, the house, the immediate presence of my dad, when in my real waking life I know that what happened in the dream could never actually happen. But for the short, precious time I convened with my dad last night, it did happen. It was real in the moment.
It’s been a rather emotional morning for me. This sudden, raw conversion back to reality upon awakening overwhelmed me with sorrow, as it does every time Dad costars in my dreams.
Who knows where all this comes from. I don’t put my hands in my pockets, as a general rule. I did, however, gently reprimand one of my boys last week for having his hands in his pockets on the court just before the start of his team’s basketball game, telling him he needs to have his hands out and ready for play. Dad, who lived to 81, lived his entire adult life with remnants of his old war survival mentality; he would take wads of napkins from fast food restaurants, for example, and stuff them in his pockets to take home in the event of a future napkin shortage in the house. I think the biggest message, though, is how much I miss my dad every day. Cancer took him from us almost three years ago. A dream like this reminds me of how much of a presence he still is in my life and the lives of those in my family, especially my mom. I have photos, videos, and countless memories, of course, but my abilities to interact with him through those media are limited, if not impossible. As sad as I am awakening from such dreams, I am comforted by knowing that somehow, until the day I die, I will always at least have this one way, however vague and unpredictable, of still interacting with my father from time to time. It’s kind of a tragic gift, isn’t it, to dream like this.
There will be more to say about my dad, a great man, in future posts, in part because he had REM behavior disorder, an important sleep disorder to discuss. For now, I need to recover from last night’s proceedings. However painful it was to awaken, it was good to hang out with Dad again.