My Father’s Hands (nonfiction)

In my memory, my father’s hands are large. His sturdy fingers, the columns that hold up the Parthenon roof, the pillars that secure the world on the turtle’s back, that hold me as I swing between him and my mother when we walk down the street together. His palms span wide enough to encompass mine, to welcome his new wife to a new country, to cradle each of his children, to hold together a family spread over continents, to welcome new migrants into our home, to embrace everyone who comes within his orbit as if they’re another member of his ever-growing family.

In my memory, his hands are like his laugh; warm and safe, a harbour, a guide, a beacon. They are the surety I seek when I’m afraid. His hands tell stories; of the squirrels he caught and tamed in his childhood, the placards he held and the fists he raised during youthful protests, the careers relished then signed away at each critical juncture of his life. They tell of family and friends and food, of history and mythology, of language and scripture and lifelong learning. They hold the scope of his love and patience, and anger too.

In my memory, my father’s hands are brown, like mine, with large pores, and deep creases at the knuckles. His nails are bitten short, mere nubs that punctuate the tips of his fingers. His palms, the colour of beach sand, are plump and ridged with warm umber lines that mark his fate, his life, his fortune.

But his wedding ring, my mother’s first initial in bold uppercase on its face, rests comfortably on my index finger.

Those hands that spanned continents, and embraced lives, were only slightly larger than my own adult hands.

All the giants of memory shrink in reality.

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13 Comments on “My Father’s Hands (nonfiction)”

  1. This is very beautiful, Asha. I only wondered about the word “shrink” in the last line, which has a negative connotation to me in a piece that otherwise is very uplifting of your father; I understand the point about our heroes not always turning out to be larger than life as we once thought, but that specific word left me with a feeling like there were unresolved things coming up there. Maybe that was just me. I wonder if you don’t even need that last sentence, because the sentence before is also a good reflection to hang on to as a reader. Beautiful descriptions, lovely memories, and a wonderful piece!

    • Thanks, Katie! Hmm. That’s an interesting point about “shrink”. I used it largely because my eldest kid and I had recently driven through the area I grew up in and I was shocked at how close everything that had been so distant in my memory had become. The laneway at the back of the house I lived in had inexplicably shrunk (it hadn’t, I just grew up)! The school I went to was 150m away, not the 150kms of my memory! It had all gotten smaller. I hadn’t made the negative connection, but I see your point.

  2. This piece is bittersweet and lovely. It feels like you’ve created a modern myth here. Your balance of actual memories with more ephemeral statements makes them both more meaningful. I loved both of the last two paragraphs but it felt like the second-to-last was the more natural ending. But I hesitate to say that because I also really loved the final sentence – so I’m not sure how helpful I’ve been.

  3. Asha, this was beautiful. You packed so much into such a short essay. I really appreciate the first three paragraphs beginning with the same phrase, and then you tying it all up with a perfect bow at the end. I have to admit that last sentence kind of punched me in the gut, due to personal circumstances with family and how my memories of them don’t equate with how I see them today. Just really, superbly well done.

  4. This was a beautiful piece, Asha! Made me think of my Papa. Your memories of your father growing up makes this a lovely tribute.
    The last line did confuse me a bit but I see your point of view too.

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