The Pictures are Worth Taking
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The Pictures are Worth Taking

It is late in the afternoon when my phone dings. I know by the sound it is an email, and since I work from home, I rush to check it. To ensure it isn’t urgent. To ensure it isn’t one of those types of messages that needs my immediate attention. And it isn’t. It is just an email from my editor; an email with a simple question. A question that requires a yes or no answer: “Do you have any photos of you with your dad?”

But that question is loaded. That question is heavy. And that question hurts.

Because the truth is there are very few photos of us. I mean, we have a couple of posed family pics. There are some vacation photos and special occasion shots, images where we were dressed to the nines — i.e. images where my father was sporting a fitted suit and I was in a poofy Communion dress or a deep green Christmas dress. But there aren’t many because he was always behind the scenes. My father was always the one behind the lens. And while I didn’t notice his “absence” when I was growing up, as the years pass, I regret those missing memories more and more.

My father died when I was 12-years-old, and I can scarcely remember the color of his eyes, or the shape of his face. I cannot recall where my pre-teen body “fit” with his.

Did my head reach his armpit? Could I fit the crook of his neck, just beneath his salt-and-pepper beard? Or was I smaller? Has time skewed my memory that much?

And every day it gets worse. As the 20th anniversary of his death approaches, I find myself mourning the pictures we never took, and the frames we never filled, because he was too busy capturing the moment–because he didn’t want to be in it. Or because the pictures I long for are from days he never saw; they are of memories we never made.

Like my prom. Graduation. My wedding day. My daughter’s birthday.

It hurts, and it is hard.

Because the man who had a larger than life personality; who taught me how to ride a bike and burp the alphabet; who kissed my boo-boos; the man who poured my cereal and made a mean strip steak is fading from my memory. The man I called Dad” is nothing more than a shadow in my mind, and the handful of photos I have — the ones I keep in a fireproof box — seem so meager compared to the space he had held. Compared to the man he was. And the idea that 39 years can disappear so swiftly, and so easily, scares me. It scared me when I was a teenager, and it scares me even more today as a mother and wife.

So I take pictures of everything and anything. I snap at least a dozen shots each day.

However, when I look back at my daughter’s first year, a year which is missing from my memory thanks to sleep deprivation and terrible bout of postpartum depression, I notice a similar trend in my own families photos. I am often missing. I am the disembodied voice in videos. I am the face just beyond the picture’s frame. I am that off-camera entity.

I didn’t plan to be — I didn’t mean to be — but it happened. Somehow, it happened.

I don’t want to be that “missing” face in her life. I don’t want her to forget my crazy hair colors, my graphic tees, or my colorful leggings. I don’t want her to wonder if Mommy had a mustache — I do, in fact, you love to comb it — or bushy brows. And I don’t want her to long for something she can never fix.

For a space, and a memory, that she can never fill.

That said, I have to admit I’m conflicted, because while I long for photos of my father, it is the moments that matter. The memories that matter. And I often wonder if my obsession to capture the moment is destroying it. I wonder if my desire to document life keeps me from truly living it. But at the end of the day I know my camera doesn’t preclude me from doing anything, as long as I remember to put it down. As long as I look up from the screen and into my living room. As long as I remember to remember the moment and not just document it.

So I vow — to my daughter and myself — to make memories worth keeping. To make moments worth treasuring. And to fill our frames.

To be in our pictures.

 

KZapata_Headshot_2015Kimberly Zapata is the creator and voice behind Sunshine Spoils Milk, a blog dedicated to mental health and mommyhood. She is a regular contributor for Babble and Romper, and her work has been featured on Washington Post, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, BLUNTMoms, Mamalode, The Mighty, Yahoo!, Ravishly, Sammiches & Psych Meds, in Lose The Cape: Never Will I Ever (and then I had kids), in So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood, and in The Postpartum Year.

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