I was thinking about my Dad last night. Actually, I think of him every day, but pretty hardcore last night. It was something about the way the air smelled and the color of the sky – it reminded me of him and me when I was a kid.
My Dad was my hero.
He was smart, funny, kind, goofy, generous and so full of life – honestly, you’ve never met anyone with a verve for life like he had. He had this smile that was so infectious and a way of making everything fun. He could charm the pants off anyone (or at least get free stuff at the deli) with his wit, smile and the twinkle in his light blue eyes.
As far as my Dad was concerned, the sun rose and set according to where I was.
When I was a kid he and I did everything together. He took me on business trips, we grocery shopped together, we did art and read Tolkien together. We went fishing and had our own little language, just he and I.
Some things never fail to make me laugh when I think of them. He and I had just completed a rather miserable early morning fishing trip at Lake Wenas. It was cold, foggy and the fish weren’t biting. We’d forgotten the hot cocoa and I can imagine I was being a bit of a pill. On our way home we stopped at a little market and grabbed some sandwiches to eat on the way home – now I can’t remember clearly how bad they were – but those sandwiches were BAD. My Dad rolled down his window and tossed his sandwich out. Now imagine me, wide-eyed, always having been taught to not litter and my Dad looked me dead in the eye, straight-faced and shrugged, “Sometimes your sandwich just falls out the window.”
I laughed so hard, I didn’t know when I’d stop. My sandwich fell out the window too.
One cold November night he came into my room and woke me up, wrapped me in his coat and carried me outside. He held me in his arms in the back yard and we watched in awe as the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis for you word snobs) danced above us in the sky. He didn’t wake my mom or my brother, just me. It was something we shared together.
When we had no money, instead of buying me a Barbie Dream Castle, he built a totally amazing Barbie condo himself in my Gramp’s shop, complete with a carpeted living room, tiled kitchen and loft style bedroom.
As I got older he was still him, and I was a teenager and appalled by his goofy behavior. Waltzing and singing in the grocery store, embarrassing me in front of the bag boy I had a massive crush on, questioning my first boyfriend…literally sixteen years old and he sits the guy down on the couch and the first words out of his mouth were, “So, Roy, do you have a job?” I was beyond mortified.
But these are the things I will never forget. I will never forget surprising him on Christmas Eve when I traveled unannounced from Tucson to Yakima when he first got diagnosed with liver cancer. When he saw my face in the car and he fell to his knees in the snow…there are no words for that. In return, he surprised me by showing up at the hospital for the birth of my first child.
When we had a falling out – and that’s putting it lightly – it was the worst time of my life. So grounded in my need to be right, and so stubborn about making amends – I missed years of time with him. I spent close to three years without speaking to him, just wallowing in anger towards him.
A few posts back I mentioned a night when a wave of calm ran through me. Something was happening here at home, the details aren’t important. But I was having a bad night. Sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe, I was choking on tears and cries. Something made me call out to my grandfather who had passed a couple years before that – I don’t know, I’ve never done something like that before – but I was desperate for comfort and love. Say what you will, I really don’t care – but a wave of warmth ran over me. A feeling of being surrounded by him came over me and I felt peace. I couldn’t have kept crying if I wanted too, they literally just stopped in their tracks and dried up. I sat on the sofa relishing being wrapped in that warm feeling.
And something else happened. The thought popped into my head that I needed to make it right with my Dad. I needed to suck it up and apologize, profusely, despite what I felt was right or wrong, despite what I held to be truthful. I had to make it right.
I read a study that was done by some psychology researchers, and did you know that we are more likely to apologize to strangers than we are to family? Like the coward I am, rather than call I emailed him. The year that followed was spotted with short, punctuated conversations via email with him. Things seemed to be progressing a bit between us, and then the bomb dropped.
My father was a hard working man. Intelligent beyond comprehension without a lick of college on his resume. However that didn’t stop him from being a teacher at a technical college in a field not many at the time understood, it didn’t stop him from starting his own company in the field of telecommunications, or from designing wine labels for Chateau St. Michele or from writing computer software that literally changed how the fruit packing companies worked forever. It didn’t stop him from starting a new company of just software design for the fruit market. In all that time, he never took a vacation. That man worked.
When he told me that he and his wife were randomly going on a trip to Cozumel, I knew, my stomach knew…something was wrong. Something was indeed so wrong that they left their vacation just days into it and returned home because he was in so much pain.
Terminal. And can I just insert a loud, FUCK CANCER.
The ugly cancer that he had been battling for eleven years was finally winning. Before the vacation, he’d been told that no more surgeries could be done. He had too much scar tissue to cut through after all his other surgeries. The specialized chemo wasn’t working anymore. Cancer was winning.
He thought he had time. Something told me he didn’t. A gut instinct maybe? And off I flew to see him not even knowing how I would be received.
I spent three amazing days and nights with my father that March. We spent hours (despite constant warnings from his wife to rest and not get too riled up) talking and discussing. We talked about everything from my kids to family history to quantum physics (for real) to alien life forms on earth. His wife forced him to bed, asking if we’d finally unlocked the secrets of the universe…we watched horrible B rate movies and screamed at the tv, laughing hysterically. We dug around in his “junk collections” and books and treasures and photos.
I didn’t let him see me cry. But I did…in my bed when we all finally called it a night. Driving to my mom’s the next day – I cried. He was thin, tired and looked old. Far older than he should. He still had that smile and that twinkle and that charm. But he looked sick.
After that, I called often, emailed often. He died just three months later in June.
I’ll never call him and hear “hey babydoll!” on the other end again. I’ll never crack a joke and hear him chuckle and say, “oh gosh.” again. I’ll never see him in that red apron, cooking up a feast at his grill or playing with his grandkids in the yard and the way he started all his sentences with, “well, ya know…” I still feel him. I have felt him around me. I’ve felt his hand on my shoulder, ruffling my hair and cupping my own hand. I know he see’s me, I know he visits and keeps an eye on me. I used to email him even after he passed. I never did delete his phone number off my phone.
I’ll never get him back. But I carry with me everything I learned from him. To persevere. To be positive and full of light. To laugh. To see the beauty in things. To not take myself too seriously. To love my family. To say I’m sorry and to forgive.
I love you Dad.