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Fountain of Sorrow

In 11 more years, I’ll be older than my father ever was. As of one year ago, I’ve lived longer without my father than I lived with him. He killed himself almost 20 years ago, when I was 18 and he was 47. My sister is two years older than I am, so she had a father for 20 years. She has until she’s 40 to say she’s been mostly fatherless. By some wallowing calculus I can say my father died two years before hers did.

I barely remember my father, so I count backward and forward to pay my respects. I add up the years that have passed since he died, and try to recognize him in the people I see every day—would he be thinner than the man behind me in line at Starbucks? Would he check his phone while he was riding in the elevator beside me, or would he look me in the eye? I try to subtract my own age until I’m back in the time when my father was alive, but I forget how either of our lives looked back then. What did we do in elevators before we all had phones to check? It’s easier for me to subtract a little more, to imagine my father’s life before I was even born.

In ’65, my father was seventeen. In ’69, he was twenty-one. If you ever listen to the classic rock station, or watch infomercials for ‘70s music compilations, those lines might sound a little familiar. Because that’s how old Jackson Browne was, too; it’s the way he sings it in “Running On Empty.” I never listened to Jackson Browne when my father was alive. I found him a few years ago, when I worked in an office that piped the local classic rock station through the central speakers. After I heard “Running On Empty” a couple dozen times, I realized that Jackson Browne and my father were the same age—and when I looked up the lyrics, I learned that “Running On Empty” came out in 1977, the year I was born. The numbers add up: Jackson Browne will always be as old as my father, if my father were still alive.

I can make a lot out of a little overlap. I don’t remember my father ever listening to Jacks...