I’m sitting on the couch with Harley curled up at my side, snoozing away. The Keith Jarrett Trio’s cover of “It’s All In the Game,” one of my all-time favorite pieces, is drifting over us. Being alone like this with Harley, I’m struck by how much he reminds me of my father. And not just the gentle snoring.
One of my most vivid memories of my father is a feeling. It’s not a particular moment or event, a baseball game or a special outing, though we had plenty of those. It’s my sense of our relationship. Dad and I didn’t need to talk much. I felt close to my dad by just being in the same room. No conversation or activity required. We understood that about each other. Silence spoke volumes for us.
As Harley repositions himself to get just a little closer and rest his head on my thigh, I get that same sensation: closeness without complication. Although Harley’s presence at my side seems familiar and comfortable, it’s odd. He rarely falls asleep touching me — let alone with his head on my lap. Like Dad, Harley prefers to be together, but apart, to share a space but maintain his own personal space. When Dad and I sat in the living room, I sat in a rocking chair with a nappy plaid cover and a wobbly footstool. Dad had a special lounge chair with a side table covered with his stuff. A well-worn whetstone, a box of matches, an ugly lamp, used Dilly Bar sticks, an unfinished Old West pistol project.
That’s why tonight I’m amazed and touched that Harley and Dad are sitting so close. I can feel their tenderness and warmth. Now I can feel Dad’s hand on the crest of my head, gently tousling my hair. I can feel his arm come to rest on the top of the cushions behind me. I can see his smile from the corner of my eye. I can feel his girth beside me, substantial and soft.
Somehow, Harley opens this portal for me. As he’s aged, Harley has become more and more the old man my father never became. Slowed by knee injuries and chronic maladies, Harley’s settled into a senior routine now. Our walks are slower and shorter but no less enjoyable. He still flashes that hound dog smile, slightly open mouth and sparkling eyes.
When I imagine Dad as an old man, I see something similar. He is smiling from a chair in the living room, that table of dad things overflowing beside him. We’re sitting together watching the day drift by. We’re looking through a wall full of windows, out over a green pasture onto a sunny October day. Soft, golden light catches the maple leaves holding on for a few more days. I turn in my chair and tell him that I love him. He smiles, reaches out for my arm and says, “I love you too, Kasey.”
I know Harley is just sleeping. His head is pressing into my hip now, his brown velvet ear draped over my thigh. He has no idea what I see in him or the emotions he evokes. But that’s ok. I love him for who he is. I love our relationship for what it is now. Simple.