Did I ever tell you my dad once bought himself a #1 GRANDDAD coffee cup?  He did.

It was back when my parents lived locally, and my kids were their only grand kids.  My dad slurped steam off his coffee once when I went to visit, and right there, big as life:  #1 GRANDDAD across his mug. He wiggled his eyebrows at me like he was awesome and wandered off.

When my mom came in, I whispered, “Who bought Dad that mug?” Because like I said – only grand kids were my kids, and I didn’t recall any of them giving him anything.

“Oh he got that for himself,” my mother said, tickled. “It’s his favorite mug.”

This is kind of a perfect example of how interactions with my dad almost always make me laugh or roll my eyes in irritation, and I’m never quite sure which is gonna win.

Anyway, taking a hint, I dutifully got him a coffee mug the following Christmas.  It had a photo of him and the grand kids and a WE LOVE GRANDDAD across the bottom.  I couldn’t bring myself to have written #1 GRANDDAD, because hey: kids have two granddads, and it’s not a competition, and what kind of message does that send to the kids anyway?

Despite the lack of title, this immediately became his favorite cup. Unfortunately (and without my knowing) over the course of the year, all the ink on the cup faded/scratched away.  After all those many dishwasher trips, the cup itself became nothing more than a white mug.

One day I came over to see Mom, and Dad ambled into the kitchen, made* and poured himself coffee, wiggled his eyebrows, and toasted me.

“What?” I asked, not getting the joke.  My dad used to be quite a bit smarter than me, and I often got annoyed when I didn’t get his jokes.  He’d then  explain them, often sighing in disappointment that I wasn’t smart enough to make the mental leaps.

“It’s my favorite mug,” he scoffed, annoyed.  Per usual, I didn’t make the leap.  It was just a coffee cup.

When he wandered off, Mom identified the mug for me as the one with the kids’ photo.  It was somehow still Dad’s favorite, even though there was nothing left of the sentiment, no children sitting in his lap, no markings at all.

As Dad’s own personality fades, I find myself thinking about that instance more and more.  What does it mean that he favored something that wasn’t even there anymore? An early sign of his dementia, or some prophetic lesson about the true value of loved things?

My mom has been low for a few weeks now, or maybe it’s months. To perk him up (and thereby my mother), I decided to send Dad a T-shirt through the mail.  Remembering the whole mug incident, I got one that says Best. Dad. Ever., although I felt pretty uncomfortable about it.

I showed my husband first, explaining my thought processes: 3 words, easy concept, something to brag about, the mug he liked earlier.  But I felt like an asshole.  After all, my husband is someone’s dad, and what kind of weird message is it to him, or to my kids?  I sent the shirt kind of in secret.  That doesn’t even cover how I’m not sure my dad was the best. dad. ever., or that soft peddling our relationship is a disservice.

I don’t know if I told you this before, but my dad didn’t go to see his own father on his deathbed.  My parents were actually here in California (not across country where they then lived) seeing me and my new baby when the call came.  My grandfather had been mortally ill for three years by then, but I heard the phone call my dad took in my living room (because he’s partially deaf and so basically puts speaker-phone to his ear):  “The end should be here in the next few days.”

My dad could have driven the seven hours to see his father, but he didn’t.  The logistics alone baffled me — it was so easy, he didn’t even have to buy a plane ticket.  The next call came, “The thing we hoped wouldn’t happen has happened.”  Such weird wording, right?  But that’s how it came.

Then Dad did drive the seven hours to go to the funeral later that week.  As far as I know, my dad and grandfather were at least on speaking terms.  I never had the guts to ask my father why he didn’t say goodbye, or what it meant to him, or what I was supposed to glean about farewells to parents.

I do know my father had strong feelings about life being for the living, and that resources should always go to the young. Sometimes I wonder if I am violating his morals, or if he would be angry with me for wasting my time sending him crap in the mail.

Some of you will say, ‘how could he be angry you treated him kindly?’ but kindness was not my dad’s top priority.  He wanted what was right, and what was true.  I suspect he would not want energy directed into the black hole of his diminished existence – all the energy he put into me should only rightly go into my own children or my own success.  He might be supremely angry I would waste my energy in this manner.  And especially, he would hate simpering and coddling flattery and lies.  I can’t bear to say he probably wasn’t the best dad ever.  But I also can’t claim he was.  Maybe that’s because I didn’t, and don’t, know him that well.

But there was no T-shirt online I could find that said Most Ambivalent Feelings About My Dad Ever.  Even if one did, that seems like a shitty shirt to send a man who probably doesn’t remember why I’d feel that way.

*My dad doesn’t do much housework, but for the past ten years, he’s ALWAYS made the coffee.  This is based purely on his dedication to the following joke, which requires him to be making coffee when he tells it:  “Men should make the coffee.  It’s in the Bible: Hebrews.”