If you knew my Dad, you knew that he was funny. But maybe what you didn’t know was how far he was willing to go for a joke or to make his friends and family happy. Like that time we were sitting in a Myrtle Beach hotel room (Myrtle Beach = our childhood beach of choice) and my Dad came screaming out of the bathroom wearing my step-mom’s bathing suit. Or the many times that he used to honk the horn when we walked in front of the car (that one was only funny if you were one of the people sitting inside the car).
Or the time that he told my sister, brother, and I in the dimly lit interior of the truck that he was planning on proposing to his partner of ten years, Robin, and did we have any ideas for the proposal. Because he wanted this to be our proposal too, he let us sing Diamond Rio’s song “Norma Jean” with amended lyrics to Robin, and then he jumped up on the coffee table, held the ring box out with one hand, and sang to her: “Robin Way, would you marry me.” This particular method of proposal was my idea, and he didn’t fight it one bit. And maybe he should have. After all, Robin was so surprised by the proposal and by our performance that, in answer to his repeated inquiries, she would only say “Yes, if you’re serious. But I can’t tell if you’re serious.”
My Dad was my best friend, and I mean that sincerely. He was hilarious and sometimes he thought that I was funny too. He was generous with his time and his money, although he didn’t suffer fools and he expected us to work for our money, too. (Like collecting the rocks on our farm, helping run a buffalo festival, or growing an acre of tobacco.) He had a temper but he also had the biggest heart, and it beat for his family and friends. His words to some could occasionally be cutting, but he was ultimately a nurturer, someone who would give someone a hand a first, second, third, and fourth time because he cared and he believed that people were capable of anything: even changing less desirable habits.
He was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia when I was in high school, but the disease didn’t define him, and it only limited him as much as was strictly necessary. He told us that we should make him keep walking around the hospital, even if he didn’t want to, and that maybe we could show other people not to give up through our example. He sent pizzas to the nursing staff and joked with them when they came to our room. He complained because I brought him roast beef sandwiches from Arby's but somehow didn’t know to include “worshtie sauce.” He let us wear his black ribbed slippers with the plaid lining and slip into bed next to him, and we turned our backs occasionally when he had to pee but couldn't comfortably make it to the bathroom.
He made my sister and I promise that after he was in remission we would write a book about cancer. He was not only worried about himself, but how we could help others.
I don’t think that when I was a teenager that I thought that much about getting married and having children, even if I was obsessed with the thought of falling in love. But if I did think about it, I certainly didn’t think that we would lose my dad before his 41st Birthday and that he would die never having met my future husband (despite the cruel fact that on the last day he was alive Daniel stood over the couch where he slept but I didn’t want to wake Dad up), or my beloved son, Sam. When I stop to think about these facts, as I am now, they almost rip my insides apart with sadness.
We lost Dad over twelve years ago—a fact which seems very strange—particularly when I remember that I lost him at nineteen. But I remember so much about him and fiercely wish that he were here, and the nights that I dream that he’s still alive are both among the best and worst dreams that I have.
I’m writing this because I’m home on a Christmas visit, and because at home, even more there where I currently live outside of Knoxville, I’m reminded of Dad and how we have tried to re-fashion our family after his passing without neglecting the memory of someone who was, and remains, so integral to what I know about a family.
I’m also writing because I want to say that I know how hard the holidays can be if you’ve experienced loss. Some of my friends have lost parents, many of them dads, and I know that life goes on but you never lose that understanding that you’ve lost something incredible in your life and that you want it back. If you’ve written about losing a parent on Facebook, please know that I’ve read your posts and commiserated, and I’m missing your parent too. When you say that you had the best dad (or mom) in the world, I know how you feel, and I’m happy that you’ve experienced that feeling, too.
This is a sad post, but I also hope that it’s somewhat happy. I’ve been blessed beyond belief with the people in my life: my dad, my mom, step-mom, my sister and brother and adopted sister and step-siblings and step-fathers, my in-laws, and best friends and friends, among others, and of course, most of all, my amazing husband and son. I wish that dad were here—and I’d do almost anything to change the fact that he isn’t—but I also love knowing that someone lived who was so wonderful and meant so much to me, that I still miss him this much even now.
I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas with the people that you love most. I know that I will.
Give me that HEA, please.
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