it turns out, my dad used to be four

I am scanning photos for my dad’s 70th birthday.  Which is, actually, impossible–because my dad is 45 years old.  He has always been 45 years old, and he will always be 45 years old.  Period.

Except that here I am scanning his baby photos.  Which means at some point, he must have been four.

The same age my son is now.  And he must have played the same little-boy games and built forts and run around.  My dad at this age actually looks a lot like my son.  And the truth is, even though my dad has drawers full of family photos that he’s collected, I have not seen that many of them.  It never really occurred to me to look at childhood photos of my dad.  Because he never had a childhood.  Because he has always been 45 years old.

Like he is here:

Circa 1983.  My mom, my two sisters, my dad, and me.  I’m the supermodel in the sailor hat and braces.

I’ve seen this photo a thousand times.  It’s one of those favorites that make it into frames and holiday cards.  But it’s been a while since I looked at it.  And looking now, in this context, makes me see it differently.  I can’t help but feel so sympathetic to all these people–these younger versions of ourselves.  I know so much that they don’t know: All the things that are waiting for them, and what those things will mean, and how they will linger or be forgotten.  I know what will happen next to these people. And for that reason, more than anything else, the only thing my eyes can feel when they rest on this photo tonight is a fierce and inexplicable tenderness.


Filed under crazy personal stuff, news!, visual art

15 responses to “it turns out, my dad used to be four

  1. I love old pictures. I never thought about it but I think of my dad as 39 forever (even though he is not), he used to say that was his age every year after that birthday and still does.
    Your family photo is great, you guys were a stylish bunch!

  2. Beautiful photo of your Dad (and I dunno, braces and sailor hats can be hot, right?). I too have an image of my dad frozen in time, in his early 70’s (though he looked very young despite his illness). And I miss him tremendously. -Christine

  3. ooohhh… this is a good one. You have such a powerful way of illustrating how life evolves and what we learn in the process.

  4. Sophia

    My father will forever be in his early 40s, and I can still lovingly recall the smell of his deodorant.

    I love the family portrait. I have a similar family photo from the 80s, and I am wearing a really cool pair of glacier glasses, and my CB ski jacket.

  5. Good morning Katherine!
    My name is Roxanne. I am a mother to three grown children and an artist.
    Yesterday, I visited my daughter’s blog ( and saw your beautiful video presentation. How powerful, moving and inspiring! What a gift! As if that wasn’t enough, I slowly read the words which pushed me over the edge into a free fall of joy and thanksgiving! You have expressed, in the lovliest way, what every mother feels for her children. You spoke my heart…put into words, what I have never been able to say. I am so grateful! I can only imagine the countless lives these words will touch. Thank you, Katherine. I will look forward to reading your books.

    You are making a difference.

  6. Mir

    My dad also just turned 70, despite the fact that he too is forever and always 45, world without end, amen. You’ve inspired me to find some pictures…. 🙂

  7. Deb

    Katherine, beautiful blog post. I too love old family photos and have many of my parents when they were young and of my grandparents. It’s weird to see my grandma without her beautiful white hair. She looks like someone else with black hair!!!

    And I pray you will always remember your dad as 45. I wish that too as my dad is now 78 , in very poor health and definitely not the person he was when I was growing up. It is very sad. I wish I could think of him the way he used to be, maybe some day I will.

  8. This made me smile and tear up all at the same time. The pic of your dad as a young child is gorgeous and your son must be adorable.

  9. oh sweetness, i get this, i really do.
    i find myself with a heart full of tenderness and tears.

  10. jul

    holding each other with that tenderness is so healing to everyone… i’m going to remember to do that today.


  11. I have been delighting in your blog for sometime now. I’ve shared your incredibly beautiful vidio for the mom summit 2.0 with every mom I know. I smile and cry and sigh and your words and thought it was time that I thank you. (i love, love love the concept of words painted on skin)
    You inspire.

  12. This is a lovely little post, stuffed with affection and longing. It made me smile. And it also made me a bit sad. In my estimation, that’s the mark of good, rich writing. It also reminded me of a post I wrote a little while back –

    Not sure why it has taken me this long to find my way to your thoughtful blog, but I am happy to be here. And will return.

  13. MariaV

    My mother will be 70 years old next year. I think I will do this for her. I better get started.

    My mother will always be 35 years old to me.

  14. Hey Katherine, my name is Missy and I am going to Great Wolf Lodge this wkend. So I am clicking around on all the other blogs and realized that you are the one who wrote the book that my friend Mark has been telling me I should read for months!

    Jeez, really wish I had read it now…

    Look forward to meeting you 🙂

  15. I really love this post. “I know what will happen next to these people. And for that reason, more than anything else, the only thing my eyes can feel when they rest on this photo tonight is a fierce and inexplicable tenderness.”

    So beautiful.

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