For Daddy, 10/20/51- 7/28/97
Hate to come back from a long blog vacation with a sad post, but I try to talk about this day every year in some way or another. This is actually an edited version of a post I made two years ago on the tenth anniversary of my dad's death, but I'm reusing it since it still says pretty much everything I want to say about it. It's funny, but when Dad died, a lot of people said, "One day, you'll write about this." Twelve years later, I still haven't. Daddy got cancer when I was fourteen, and died when I was seventeen, so in a lot of ways, that defined my teenage years, and probably had a big effect on the stuff I write for teenagers, but I'm still not ready to tackle that particular story. Maybe one day.
Anyway, on to my post:
Today marks the twelfth anniversary of my dad's death. It's almost impossible to believe that a dozen years have passed, but there you have it. For those of you not fortunate enough to know my dad, he was one of those rare individuals who was truly good. I'm not trying to deify him; I think we do that far too often to those we have lost, and, in doing so, we deny humanity. Instead, a little story.
When my dad was sixteen, he lost both of his best friends in a car accident. He was supposed to be with them that night, but had to work. As a result, Daddy always felt that he had cheated death and often told my mom that he wouldn't live to see fifty. Sadly, he was right.
But what did Daddy do with that time he had on earth? He spent it being kind. How many people when they leave this life can say, "I treated both those I loved and didn't love with respect"?
My dad could.
I have always said that I would rather have had the dad I had for seventeen years than any other father for a lifetime, and I stand by that. But still, ten years in, I am so, so sad for the things we never shared. There are big things of course, like him not being there when I got married or bore the son that carries his name. But it's the little things that no one warns you about. Like how many times I've watched Austin Powers or The English Patient and thought, "God, Daddy would have LOVED this." Or thinking of him, who once had a Che Guevera poster over the couch, and wondering what he would say about our current political situation. All the little things I would have loved to share with him. In a way, I know that I still share these things with him. As Emily Dickinson said about her dead mother, "Mama never forgets her birds / Though in another tree / She looks down just as often / And just as tenderly..."
It continues to be hard, and I still dread six years from now, when he will have been gone eighteen years and, therefore, will have been dead for longer than I ever knew him alive. And I hate that my son will always have to say, "I never knew my mom's dad. He died when she was seventeen."
But I have good memories, and I'd like to share a few with you.
1) I am four. My dad is in the driver's seat, I am in the back. He adjusts the rearview mirror so that he can see me. My mom admonishes him to direct it toward the road. He says, "But she's just so pretty!"
2) I am seven. We have just bought a sailboat, which Daddy names after me and mom. It sits in the backyard and we raise the sails and order pizza, eating it in the cabin, right their in the yard, neighbors be damned.
3) I am eleven. We are in his truck and Eric Clapton's "Layla" comes on. "I wanted to name you after this song," Dad confides. "But your mom said Layla was too big of a name to give to a baby. I still like it."
4) I am thirteen. Mom is on a business trip and Dad uses the opportunity to trade in his old truck for a candy apple red Miata. We buy it and immediately start blaring "Brown Sugar" and "The Soft Parade." We laugh as the wind blows through our hair.
5) I am seventeen. It is the night before dad goes into the coma that will, three days later, lead to his death. I am headed upstairs for bed when something makes me turn around. I sit by his side in the bedroom and tell him how much I love him, what a wonderful father he's been, and how proud I am of the dignity he's shown in the face of a debilitating illness. He can't really talk, but just squeezes my hand.
A couple of years ago, Will picked up the picture of my dad that sits in my living room. In said picture, Dad's in his early twenties, long hair, long beard, banjo slung over his shoulder. Will has never really noticed this picture, but that day, he toted it around, kissed it, and pointed to Daddy, saying, "Will, Will."
It never stops. Those we love are still with us. But today, I sure do wish he were still here. I love you, Daddy.
And since you were a sailor...
"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."- John Masefield