Yesterday, on Father’s Day, my sister posted a picture of her and my dad circa 1992. The photo is actually of her entire softball team, but the other girls (including me, I’m pretty sure), all decked out in green shirts and boxy, unattractive hats reading “Packy’s Pub,” the team’s local sponsor, have been cropped out. My dad is the coach. His arms are crossed and his hair, just reaching the point of more gray than black, is styled in a Mel Gibson-esque – dare I say it? – mullet. He looks tough. He looks proud. According to my sister’s caption, he is “smizing,” a term coined by the eloquent Tyra Banks. It’s a pretty spot-on character study of my jock dad, who embraced having three daughters and supported us in all of our athletic endeavors, regardless of the fact that my sisters and I were basically useless on a softball field.
I’m a little obsessed with photographs and the way they can capture the essence of a person or a moment. They’ve also become, for me, an anchor that helps me hold on to a memory, a feeling. For example: my dad and I laying on the couch in a small cabin in the Adirondacks that we rented for a week each summer. I’m three? Four? It’s clearly past my bedtime. I’m in an oversized t-shirt and I’m stretched out on top of my dad. Neither of us is smiling, which makes us look even more alike, over-tan skin, brown eyes and sullen faces. Maybe we’re just tired. Maybe he’s annoyed at my mom for ruining a nice father-daughter moment with the flash of a camera. Maybe he’s frustrated because his youngest daughter just won’t go to bed. I know that feeling.
My kids will be inundated with pictures on Facebook and Instagram, as well as whatever sites and apps I don’t even know about and the ones that don’t exist yet, but I hope pictures won’t become meaningless to them. It’s old-fashioned, but I want my girls to have something they can hold onto, not just something you swipe through, then it’s gone. I want Maggie to think she remembers the time she took up residence in a child-sized princess chair in the middle of an aisle in Target and refused to budge, for her to laugh at how stubborn she was, even at the age of two. Remember that, mom?, she’ll say. I hope she pulls that picture out to show her own kids, along with a host of other small, shiny rectangles, and they will revel in the feel of the paper in their hands, like pieces of a puzzle or a treasure map.