I was 21 when my dad died. I think, if someone had said that sentence to me when I still had a dad, I would have thought, “Well, at least you’re grown, at least it wasn’t while you were still a kid…” In reality, though, I don’t think we ever stop being kids. There’s this strange dynamic where our parents age and slow as we grow into adulthood, and the roles begin to shift, but even as it is happening, there’s an inner struggle to still be the kid, to still be walking in the safety of their shadow. I don’t think you, or I, anyway, can ever fully settle into the new reality of being the stronger one.
He died almost a year past the atomic bomb that was the birth of my first baby. You can read that whole story, if you don’t already know it, but that baby (R2) was 4 months early and he taught me about joy in suffering. But back to my dad. His heart attack and death was a total shock. He was 52 years old.
I usually write about him today, April 30th. Today marks 14 years I have lived without my father. I was at my parent’s house every day, I worked with my dad at his graphic design/animation business. The day before his heart attack, I was there, trying on a bridesmaid dress for my friend’s wedding. “You look beee-yooo-tiful,” he told me, the last words he said to me in person. The next day he called me on the phone to come see his new computer, but I was busy with life and the baby, so I told him I’d see it later. I did see it later, but he was gone. My last words to him were on the phone, “Love you, see you tomorrow.”
It’s easy to immortalize someone who dies young, especially if they were important to you. I don’t want to do that with my dad, or Daddy, as I called him every day of his life. He was normal, human, flawed and so very, very good to me. He taught me how to laugh at myself, how to take my heart seriously but my circumstances and my pride lightly. He taught me what it means to have someone in your corner, the safety of a big hand to hold in scary places, how it is never as dark as it seems.
I carry him with me, when I teach my children to laugh. I am flawed and inadequate, but I hope that the canopy of my acceptance and my deep love is something that they can find shelter under all of their life, regardless of where I am.