Aging

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The customs officer has the face of a merry alcoholic who also enjoys his pie. His friendly eyes flutter when I tell him the purpose of my trip—to help my father with some gynaecological research—but he doesn’t ask any further questions. Just stamps my passport and says Welcome to Ireland, love, which feels like a moment of sanity in an otherwise crazed world.

 

I have come here to help my father with some genealogical research. He’s quite serious about it and has been at it for years, but a few months ago he mentioned a desire to revisit Dublin’s libraries and archives, adding that he would prefer to do it with the help of a research assistant. Count me in! I’d said immediately, though we both knew I fall asleep at the mere mention of genealogy, a word I am forever confusing with gynaecology, particularly when saying it aloud.

 

Still, we’re here. And a bit of boredom in the archives seems a small price to pay for the chance to spend ten days in Dublin with my dad. He’ll be eighty in a few months—he’d say he’s 79½—and is so fit and active I have wondered if I’ll be the one scrambling to keep up. But he also has incipient Parkinson’s, a disease that has begun to possess and hammer him, and I jumped at a chance for time together, now.

 

My father does not appear in the collage of tired faces watching a slow parade of suitcases file past. Having bought our tickets separately, we weren’t sitting together on the plane, and I didn’t see him in any of the lines at Customs. I park myself in a visible spot and pass the time by trying to conjure a border experience which includes the phrase Welcome to the United States of America, love, but no matter how many times I attempt to lift that small kite of words into being, I am unable to keep it aloft.

 

When most of the bags are claimed from the belt and there is still no sign of him, I notice that when a parent is about to turn eighty, a child’s reflex changes from where the hell’s he gone? to what if something’s happened? I walk and peer and swivel and conclude that he must have headed out of the arrivals area without me. And indeed, on the other side of the exit’s automatic doors, I spot him, looking bored. The moment I wave, however, he becomes animated, fluttering a hand to his chest and panting in theatrical, exaggerated relief while running through a breathless explanation: I didn’t see you in there so I came out here but then I realized you must have been back there but then I wasn’t allowed back in so I just had to stand here wondering how long you’d stay there waiting for me! He is giggling now, shedding so many layers of relief and excitement that I pause to wonder if the airport cleaning staff ever feel they are mopping up excess emotion in addition to casual grime. Relieved, my dad goes off to find the toilets while I stand guard over the suitcases. As I watch him disappear, I decide to begin our father-daughter escapade by creating a running list of qualities I adore about him, flipping to the back of my notebook and creating the heading Things About Dad, before printing How Often He Giggles.

 

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