Lessons from Dad: The Crab Feast
It’s my father’s birthday, the first since his passing last October. My mind’s been on him a lot lately, so I figured I’d write my next few posts about my and others’ memories of him. Here’s the first of those, from the cobwebbed archives of my brain.
My family over my lifetime used to (and still does) gather for relatively normal reasons - Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving - and sometimes for less normal reasons, like mahjong or silver anniversaries. What I remembered most of these times was not necessarily the details of the occasion, but the atmosphere of my house transformed by people…a din I wasn’t so much helping to create than I was just witnessing it.
One fond summertime occasion I recall from my childhood was the grown ups in my family gathering over a pile of Chesapeake crabs, and doing what you’d expect: tearing into them while chatting the sun down. Us kids - my sister, brother, and cousin - sat at the coffee table with ears of corn - I presume because crabs terrified us (or at least me).
Sometimes the piano would be opened, or a guitar would come out. We’d play Super Mario Bros. 2. Always shells cracking open in the background. But definitely my strongest memory was seeing my Dad’s generation of the family around a table laughing about things I didn’t understand, whether it was because I was too young for the humor, or the jokes were told in Tagalog which I didn’t speak. It didn’t matter whether I understood - what I loved was that the grown-ups were liberated to be themselves, and not worried about me or my siblings (at least that I could tell…Mom might tell a different story).
Memories of these crab feasts were some of the first that filled my brain in the days after my father suddenly passed. The event of his death triggered a distillation process that’s been ongoing ever since, and in the beginning, it was a coarse one; my entire present life just disintegrated in an instant and I felt as if I were 8-years-old again. In the months since, whenever I’ve found myself in a stressful spiral, the distillation spins up again. It’s not always a good thing - sometimes, the present stress can’t be grated away so easily (I can’t just move out of New York, is a frequent example), and the resulting cognitive dissonance is awfully numbing.
But when it polishes down my memories to ones like this, then it becomes a helpful guide. Sometimes, all you need to feel better is to fill a space with a comfortable din, made with friends and family. There may be crabs there, and you may have eaten them, or not. Just fill that space so that there’s no room for the stuff that doesn’t matter. It maybe took a couple of decades for me to realize, but I’m glad I know now that Dad had the right idea. I’ll do my best to take up that mantle.
Happy birthday, Dad. We miss you.