Your Dad's Not Here

By Susan Hirsch

August 17, 2020

Your Dad's Not Here

“You don’t have to go in, Mom,” my son said through the phone. I was standing on the porch, holding the phone, and knocking on his dad’s door.

My son had called to say he hadn’t heard from his dad in three or four days. Would I bring him bottled water? August apples on an overgrown tree in the yard hung ripe by my shoulders. Winds rattled dry redwoods and bay trees. I turned the knob and walked into a minefield of decay, paper bags filled with un-rinsed tin cans, an unmade metal frame bed, weeks of Meals on Wheels delivery boxes on the floor, and layers of brown dust everywhere, on the blinds, the sills, over piles of papers, record albums, and books.

“Your dad’s not here,” I said.

After his last hospital admittance, a social worker called. “You seem like a good person.” I shouldn’t feel guilty she said that or think there was anything more we could do. No assisted living home will take a belligerent drunk, and even if they did, no alcoholic would stay. Think about when to start palliative care.

Our son called the local sheriff to report a missing person. I sat in my truck and waited. The high trill of a kingfisher faded downstream. A person could hide among the willow and cottonwood trees along the riverbanks in a tangle of roots and sand, redwood duff, bay nuts and rusted cans. Lie down and close his eyes. Not take anything from anyone anymore.


Susan Hirsch is an educator. For the last five years, she has been teaching in a college program at San Quentin Prison. She lives on a wooded hill near the Russian River in northern California. Most mornings an ocean fog trails the canyon below. She plays banjo; she plays with her Pyrenees pup Polly; she watches birds and quarrels with the privilege of beauty.


Photo by Alfred courtesy of Unsplash

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