My dad died twenty-five years ago today.
November 23, 1995, fell on Thanksgiving Day that year, so the anniversary of his death is sometimes a double whammy. Some years I get to experience the calendar memory of his loss on both the date and the day. 2020 is one of those years. I’ve decided that to the extent I can control it, I will allow the emotion of this anniversary to hit me on the 23rd, today, and be over it for the actual Thanksgiving holiday. Holidays in 2020 seem to be loaded enough. I’d prefer to not let the weight of 25 years without my dad hit me on Thanksgiving this year, too. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to manipulate emotions like that? It doesn’t work like that for me. But maybe it won’t “hit me” at all. Maybe that weight will be replaced by a lightness of celebration of his memory instead. Over the past 25 years I’ve experienced both responses, not fully knowing which will strike me any given year.
As I wake this morning, I find my mind flooded with so many thoughts and memories. If I could tell him, I’d let him know how much he is remembered. I’d let him know I haven’t forgotten one little thing. These are the words I’d say to him. I’d say that today I still remember:
- Your laughter and how it could fill up any space you occupied.
- Your compassion for people, no matter their quirks or eccentricities. This is an odd example, but I think of your secretary who had to take two weeks off work after Elvis died because she was experiencing such grief. I was only four at the time, but that still sticks with me. You gave people the freedom to be themselves around you. That’s a rare and special quality.
- How you would always have time to help me with school projects even after late hours at the office. I can still picture us at the table working on my Amelia Earhart book report cover, you affixing tiny rub-on letters spelling out “Electra” on the plane’s wing.
- Your distaste for rock music and total lack of appreciation for electric guitar (or guitar in any form, really). This was probably our most pronounced difference. The way you called the music of some of my favorite bands and artists “tragic” still kind of cracks me up. You never lacked for strong opinions. (You passed this trait on to me and definitely onto your grandchildren!)
- The sound of you playing #415 in your favorite hymnal, “Victory in Jesus,” on the piano. Oh, how I miss hearing you play.
- Your upset the night that President Carter lost to Reagan, and the fact that you valued and admired humble, servant leadership. That shaped me.
- The priority you placed on helping me maintain friendships across many moves and many miles as I was growing up. Driving me to see friends or vice versa. That was a gift that continues to bless me as so many who are still dear to me knew you.
- Your unwavering belief in my ability to succeed.
- Your love of the church in the purest and most beautiful sense.
- How you modeled that faith is action, and no task was beneath you.
- When you spent a whole weekend sharing ALL of your favorite movie musicals of the 1960s with me after I had my wisdom teeth pulled.
- The comfort and complete lack of judgment you displayed when we were in a car accident with me behind the wheel and at fault. And your wisdom for making me drive again right away.
- The horrible perm you got in the 80s. Why was that a thing? Just a random thought that makes me chuckle to think about.
- Watching SNL with you back in the Dana Carvey/ Dennis Miller/ Mike Meyers days.
- Your impeccable eye for decor and how I can only use white Christmas lights because they remind me of you.
- The way you created surround sound in our house before it existed by synchronizing all our stereos to be playing the same music in each room. I’d complain that I couldn’t enjoy my own music, but on a level I now understand, I loved it.
- Riding bikes around Coronado with you and Mom. It’s still one of my favorite things to do.
- The way you unapologetically found the greatest joy in some very simple things, like touring New England with the purpose of seeing every Advent Christian church we could manage to get to in one week (was it even a full week?). We sure saw a lot of them. This also makes me think of Mom’s trip up the Pacific Coast with the intent of riding every roller coaster at every theme park. You both showed me how to follow your heart and fully experience simple pleasures. You two could make anything an adventure, and I was along for the wild ride.
- You modeled how to admit when you were wrong and how to apologize. That one is HUGE.
- Your dislike of jeans and how I was in third grade before I remember owning a pair. How crazy is that? Who doesn’t like jeans? On some silly, deep level I still feel a little rebellious when I put on a pair (which is A LOT!).
- All the Thursday nights in high school that you’d stay up late waiting for me to complete my essay that was due the following day in English class, helping me type it since I’d never been able to take a typing course because of our moves. Every time I still have to look at the keyboard to find a key I think of you, though I have managed to improve in my skills considerably.
- How you taught me all the fight songs of the PAC Ten and Big Ten colleges and would quiz me on them. It was the only way I could share in your appreciation of college football. It has been a quarter of a century since you’ve drilled me, and I’m pretty sure I still know them all.
- Your brand of leadership. You managed hundreds of people in your years in both retail businesses and non-profit organizations, and in both settings you demonstrated an ability to motivate and bring out the best in those you supervised. They knew you cared. That made all the difference. As a teacher, every training I attend or professional article I read will tell me “it’s all about caring relationships,” but I learned that long ago from you. I feel connected to you when I teach, and I treasure that.
- How you were hardest on yourself and never recognized your own value. This one is hard to write. You died at 49, an age I now fully recognize to be very, very young in the scheme of things. My forties have produced so much healing and so much growth, along with peace I couldn’t experience before. I don’t think you ever were able to experience that in your own life. The demons you battled that weighed on you never left your shoulders while you were here with us: perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy, fear of vulnerability that kept you from true connection with many who would have easily loved you faults and all. You were everything to every body, but left little for yourself. I’m grateful my mom and I knew all of you. Because as much as your jolly exterior endeared you to others, we loved the other part of you fully as well. Understanding your pain and the hurt that burdened your heart opened a door for me to face my own.
- How you were my biggest cheerleader and made me feel so deeply loved. I pray my own children feel that kind of love and acceptance from me. I strive for that every day.
Remembering you today, Dad. Thanking God for you. Cherishing every single one of those 25 memories and so many more left unwritten. With all my love and gratitude.