The author with her family. Photo courtesy of Alise Aleman.

Have you bought a Father’s Day present yet? In any case, be sure to send your dad this super sweet yet cheese-free essay by Baltimore-based writer Alise Aleman.

When I was a child, my father would regularly pack his suitcase. Whenever I heard the clack of the plastic wheels roll across the kitchen tile, I knew he would be leaving again. He worked for a software company that had him traveling every other month.

Every time my father came home, the smell of his cologne from the folds of his neck permeated the kitchen. My mom had us wait for him at the door, and my brother and I would jump in his arms to welcome him. Years later, the welcomes became less frequent, and the smell of his cologne started to fade.

I was at work (retail) when I received the email that I’d been accepted to graduate school. I couldn’t contain my excitement, so I hid behind a clothing rack and called my family and friends to tell them. This was the beginning of a new adventure for me, and I would be in a new city, leaving the comforts of my family home.

My parents threw me a goodbye party and invited all of my family. My mom had set up a canvas in the corner of the room for everyone to sign and wish me well. She took her camera out and told me to stand next to the bee balloon. She handed me my acceptance letter that was taped to the wall. When I got accepted to the University of Baltimore, I was so excited that I didn’t consider I would be the one having to pack a suitcase.

My family drove me up to Baltimore and helped me get settled in my first apartment. We went to the Lexington Market and had our first crabcakes together. My father and I enjoyed how the market was bustled with people; my mom took out her hand sanitizer.

“Mike, here you need to put this on,” my mom said, shoving the bottle at my father.

My brother and I laughed as my father pretended to lick his hands.

At the Inner Harbor, we walked along the water. I watched a family wave at strangers as the ship drifted away. I thought about telling my parents that I would miss them, but we weren’t those kinds of people that outwardly expressed themselves. We started to head back to the car. The mist lingered between us like unspoken words.

My mom double checked my apartment to make sure everything was okay before they left.

“Don’t forget to call me,” she said, her eyes starting to water.

My brother got up from the floor and gave me a one-armed hug, his video game clutched in his other hand.

My father kissed my head and said, “Remember who you are, and it will guide you to success.”

I walked them to their car and said goodbye.

It didn’t hit me until over a year had passed when I saw them again due to COVID. My brother had grown facial hair and was almost as tall as my father. My parent’s age had settled into their skin.

At the end of every visit to Florida, my family would take me to the airport and give me a hug by the car before I walked inside. I thought about the little girl who would climb into her father’s suitcase and try to close herself in. The wheels of my suitcase clacked. I thought about my father and wondered if he felt the same each time I walked onto that plane back to Baltimore.

Alise Aleman grew up outside of Orlando, Florida. As a child who loved to read, she was fascinated by a writer’s ability to absorb and invent the texture of others’ lives. Alise now resides in Baltimore and is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore. When she isn’t too busy writing or working, you can find her reading a romance novel by the flame from one of her many candles.