Narrative / Prose / Writers

My Father’s Hand by Betsy Cohn

I am young, with an almost microscopic view of your brown leather belt, as we walk down the street mid-summer, my hand wrapped within yours, so much bigger (though you are small) that all but my thumb is eclipsed. My thumb lies lightly over your outer hand. I don’t need to exert my grip; you’re doing that firmly enough for two. It’s a grip I find perplexing, both secure and aggravating. It is mid-summer, mid-day, in Washington, DC; my hand is hot and sweaty, and it itches, all problems I can’t see how to solve. I wiggle my hand in yours, a gentle hint for you to let go or a furtive hope that my wet hand can quietly wiggle out of yours without your noticing, but that only causes your grip to tighten. Your eyes look straight ahead above me, focused on our destination, but you always know I’m there. Half your height, I still sense that your hand holding mine is both functional and loving. I can’t see how to ask you to free me without making you feel sad, so I surrender to the itch and look straight ahead like you. Prickles and all, I know that I am lucky as you lead me in to life.

Now, sitting on your bedside, still smaller than you but by less everyday, your two hands envelope my four slender fingers (bones like a bird’s, Mom always said), with my thumb lying just outside by the base of yours. I wish my grip could be tighter but force my fingers to lie still and almost straight within yours so that you can find whatever it is you need; still, my thumb can’t help closing just a little over your unfamiliar, thin-skin-covered bones. My hand still grows too warm in yours, though it takes much longer and leaves me nostalgic for the prickles that never come. With one finger, you lightly tap each of my fingertips, like a musical instrument, I think, eliciting a brief smile. You seem partly purposeful and partly searching. Watching you watch our fingers, I silently wonder, are you learning me for keeps or saying something that words would fail? Your eyes never look up as you drop off to sleep with your fingers clasped and folded over my still still hand. My body sits still, still on the side of the bed, with permission to move only my eyes and my head, and even those just microscopically. I don’t want to be the cause of change. As you sleep, your shifts slowly relinquish my hand to only one of yours, but that one grips more firmly and I am still okay, until eventually it too moves away, and I’m left with the back of my hand resting exposed on your stomach quietly moving up and down with your breath. I think I realize that I may be working with you to let you go.

4 thoughts on “My Father’s Hand by Betsy Cohn

  1. Betsy Cohn was born and raised in Washington, DC, and did stints in Michigan (where she earned a B.S. degree in Biology at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor) and in Virginia (earning an M.A. degree in English at the University of Virginia). Since 1995, she has been living in southeast Michigan and teaching writing at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn.

  2. So rarely does writing capture the essence of an experience. This eulogy captures the frustration of childhood eclipsed by the comfort of the father. As the child yearns to let go but acquiesces to the forceful grip of the father, the aging father is encouraged to let go spiritually by the daughter. In age, the father finally relinquishes his hold. But the two are forever united.

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