It has been 10 years since I last saw my dad, a decade since I have heard his voice and held his hand. An eternity since I’ve been his little girl.
My husband and I got married four months before my dad died. He was there to walk me down the aisle. Years later, my husband revealed to me what my dad had said when he’d asked if he could marry me. My dad, probably after an inappropriate joke, told the young college kid who had so easily become a part of our small family, to simply take care of me. My dad knew he was losing his battle, and knowing that I found the man who would stand by my side comforted and completed him. My dad didn’t know what life would bring us—whether we would have children or move away—but he knew I would be happy.
It took his dying to learn about parts of life to which we were strangers. My dad was a man of few words. The paternal family tree didn’t have very many branches. A brown trunk that lived in the back of the closet contained the entire evidence of his youth. I never saw what was inside until after he died.
Once the grief fades, the fear of forgetting a lost love ones surfaces. I feared I would forget his smell, the rough callouses on his hands, and the way his face looked without a beard. My children would never get to fall in love with their grandpa. The truth is, I haven’t forgotten, and it’s the stories we tell that will fill my kids with his memory as well. When I look at my daughter’s dimples and my son’s baby blue eyes, I see him. He lives in them. His memory unfolds and evolves as a daily reminder that he will never be far away. We hold true to three special mantras to keep my dad alive even in death:
- Play music. Before my daughter was earth-side, music flowed through her bones. Willie Nelson’s “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” played on the many pre-labor trips to the maternity ward. Every time she requests Springsteen or Loretta on the playlist at home, I hear my dad singing along. When my children strum his guitar, I see his calloused fingers picking across the strings. For a long time, this made me sad, but now it brings me hope—hope that one day they will share his good taste in music with their children. It guarantees that I will get to dance with my dad far into the future. If you saw my daughter’s hips swing, you would believe that dance skills are genetic. That’s her grandpa letting loose to a good song.
- Laugh out loud. Life without humor isn’t really life at all. My brothers and I grew up laughing at silly dad jokes, mildly inappropriate for children and sometimes offensive in a heartfelt way. The sense of humor rolled off onto me, but it has really taken hold in my kids. Dinner table banter between the two of my children leaves my husband and me sore from laughing so hard. My daughter is a girly-girl who lets out fart jokes, and I am proud of that, even though it’s slightly embarrassing. Pretty sure my dad would be too.
- Have faith. To my dad, faith did not particularly hold religious meaning. He had internal faith. He had faith in people and faith in the knowledge that he was the best dad he could be. He was not perfect, but if we needed him, he was there. Faith is shown in compassion to others, a calling to help, and never giving up on those you love. My dad was as compassionate as he was passionate. He helped his friends, co-workers, and family almost to a fault. A few weeks ago, while my toddler and I shopped, we encountered a little girl who was crying over not getting a book that she desperately wanted. In a motion that fellow parents know, I just smiled and nodded and moved right along. My son, in utter despair, ran up and gave her a soft hug and patted her arm. In that moment, my beautiful boy was just like my dad: empathetic to hurt in the world.
On Father’s Day, we celebrate my husband, a solid, hardcore, amazing dad. We celebrate my father-in-love, whom his grandchildren adore. And we honor my dad, a man who loved us fully and completely and would have loved my children undoubtedly more than that.