Jeff Phillips: 66 to the Moon

Today would have been my dad’s 66th birthday. He would have been a year into his retirement, would have written a novel or two, might have invested in some race horses. Facebook was before his time, though if he were still around, I could see him getting on there eventually. Reluctant at first, then curious, then having a ball on the electro-social. Sadly, we don’t get to see birthday wishes fill his wall, so here I am, writing a birthday wish on a spot of internet real estate that can maybe, just maybe penetrate the lines of communication between the living and the departed. How could I not write the man a birthday card nonetheless, how can I not have thought to write him a birthday card these past 14 years, regardless of his perceived presence?

Dad, when you turned 19, you got to watch astronauts land on the moon. And I can’t think of anything that would bring me more joy than to throw you a moon themed birthday party. I would reserve us a crater on the actual moon to spread out in, and if I couldn’t get you that, I would find us some 8-bit run of lunar land, reminiscent of the classic Atari game Moon Patrol. I would get behind the wheel of one of those blocky all-terrain vehicles and jump over all of those holes, blast each boulder in my path, circumvent any obstacle, so that I could get to you, so that I could hang out with you on your birthday.

We’d throw the party on the dark side of the moon, the better to keep the Coors Light cold. Without the direct blaze of the sun, the stars will better contrast the dark backdrop of deep, expansive space, and accentuate the flute tracks on one of your old, scratchy Jethro Tull albums.

Let’s get the grill going, I could go for some of those ribs you’d fire up on the back deck. I experienced that great epiphany when you first introduced me to that meat on the bone when I was 7 or 8. For some reason, when you said earlier that day we were having ribs for dinner, I pictured some sort of thick green vegetable, and man, was the wool whipped off from over my eyes when you transported a small wrack of said ribs onto my plate.

After feasting, we can walk off the weight in our gut, maybe wander through the canyons, like we did that random afternoon when you led Steve and I on an adventure along a dried up creek, through the woods and fields behind our house in Saginaw, Michigan to the local Meijer to buy us some baseball cards. It might get a little tough on the surface of the Moon, we might have to descend a steep crest, like during that hike we took down Cadillac Mountain on a family trip to Bar Harbor. We thought we were taking an easy trail, turned out to be one of the more advanced ones, but we were tough and persevered. In fact, I wouldn’t mind one of your refresher courses in perseverance, like those games of trap we’d play in the living room, when we’d roughhouse and Steve or I would have to escape your grip to get to the key on the other side of the room, to win the game. I remember, now, that struggle can be fun. A game of trap in a lesser gravity environment might get a little wild, yet it would be invigorating, absolutely it would be.

Today we celebrate your life, because you’re strong as Rasputin. It took four attempts for the universe to take you down. There was the time you were a younger man, when an intense wind toppled the van you had parked at the side of the road. You were changing a flat tire, the car would have crushed you, had it not been for that adrenaline, or unseen angels, helping you push it back to a stable, parked position. The undertow tried to pull you out to deep waters, and but you swam hard to the breakers in the distance. The testicular cancer that came at you from the inside in your late twenties. There were those three knocks before that great big bang of a blow to the pleural cavity in your lungs, that dick of a disease, adenocarcinoma. Why don’t we opt for the moon party to be in the guise of the 8-bit Atari world, that way I can zap that cancer to oblivion.

Your succession of birthdays have resulted in a long lasting party favor for me too. Not only did I get to be a recipient of your fathering, but you’ve set the example and instilled the yearning in me that being a great dad is something I’d like to achieve too. And if I can someday live up to that, to tell stories about you to my future children, well, I hope that can be a pretty great gift to you too.

This year you would be turning 66: the same number assigned to that highway famous for connecting many a wanderer into a landscape, to them, previously unknown. You embarked on that road much too early, and I’d prefer you took the 99.

Moon Patrol pic copy
Photo Credit: Moon Patrol, Atari 1982.


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