June 19, 2010
I can't believe it, but it's been 6 1/2 years already since my dad left us. It was blustery and cold, that day in January of '04. It was fitting weather for a funeral.
But enough about that! I want to talk about the good things!
When I was born, my dad was a month shy of his 48th birthday. I try to put that in my perspective, and I just can't fathom having a newborn around when I'm 48, which is, ironically, 6 1/2 years from now. Egads! Now to be fair, I was his 5th kid, but the first to be born to my wonderful mom Suzanne, Dad's second wife. So he had been through this a few times already. Dad LOVED babies, so he was in his element.
Growing up, Dad was a great dad. Unfortunately, when I was seven, he had a heart attack. It was definitely a wake-up call, because he quit smoking cold turkey and even quit drinking his Hamm's after work (neither one of these "quittings" would stick, but I'll bet they added a good ten years to his life). My mom and dad also became "born again". I'm not religious AT ALL, but I believe the attitude change also helped prolong his life.
Of course, there are things I know now that I didn't know back then - like how, instead of taking vacation days every year, my dad would take the money instead so that we could have good Christmases (we didn't have a lot of money growing up). He appreciated his job immensely, but didn't really like it; he stayed with it because he had to (my mom, like most back then, was a stay-at-home mom). Dad did a lot of things that he didn't want to, but did anyway because he HAD to. And it doesn't sound like much, but there are a lot of guys out there who aren't real great at being responsible. I always admired that about my dad.
One of the habits that Dad changed after his heart attack was his physical activity; Dad walked miles every day. Once, he actually walked to church, which was 10 miles away. And Dad walked FAST. I think he did it in under two hours. One of his walking routes took him past a nursing home. One day, Dad saw a gentleman sitting outside, so he went and struck up a conversation with him. I'll never forget - his name was Al Letterer. They became fast friends (and the weird part? They were only nine years apart). Dad even took us girls to visit him once or twice. And when Al passed away, Dad was genuinely saddened.
Oh, and Dad was SO sentimental, another of his traits that I just adored. When we were opening Christmas gifts every year, he'd have to get out his hanky. He didn't make a show of it - the man was a Marine in WWII, for Pete's sake - but he'd get farklempt. Growing up, I thought he was sad. By the time I got to college, and he was STILL doing it, it made him vulnerable and even more human and wonderful.
Speaking of WWII - like many guys of his generation (he was born in 1920), Dad didn't even think about enlisting - he just did it. He started his tour in August of '42, but enlisted on December 8, 1941 (with probably millions of others). He never really talked about it, until my sister Jen flat-out just asked him what it was like. I'm so happy she did that, because it turns out that it's not that Dad didn't want to talk about the war, he just thought we wouldn't be interested (!). Au contraire! I loved hearing the stories! He was a gunner on an aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown II, in the South Pacific. He saw his best friend die right in front of him. He danced with Maureen O'Sullivan at a USO dance. On one occasion, he was leaning against a bomber on deck, had lit a cigarette, and all of a sudden he heard his mother's voice screaming at him, "GET AWAY FROM THIS PLANE!!!!" It startled him so profoundly, he ran like a bat out of hell. About a minute later, it was destroyed by an attack from the Japanese. He said they were the best, and the worst, years of his life.
Dad had a temper, and sometimes it got the best of him. I was a little afraid of him as a kid - when my mom actually said "Wait 'til your father gets home!", I knew I was going to get it. It was yelling more than anything; I only got spanked three times in my life, and once was because I decided to explore the deep woods behind our apartment with my friend Jodie. My parents were FRANTIC. And Jodie and I were hopelessly lost. I'll bet they screamed for me for an hour - and when we were finally reunited, the first thing I asked, when running to their open arms was, "Are you gonna spank me?". :D They hugged me harder than they ever had; I also got spanked pretty bad, too.
For Christmas, my wonderful husband Brian made me DVDs of all our old Hi-8 movies that my ex took of my family (and that he very graciously returned to me upon our divorce). I haven't been able to bring myself to watch them yet, because my dad is very prominently featured. I know what kind of heartache it's going to bring to hear his voice again. But I'm getting closer. I think by the end of the year I'll just have to sit down and do it, and let the tears flow. Who knows? It might bring back even more wonderful memories, and that's worth everything.
Happy Father's Day, Dad, wherever you are. If you can read this, I hope you're exploring the Universe. I know that would bring you much happiness. We miss you more than you'll ever know.