Dad, I see you when a bird soars overhead. I see you in my sons’ faces and hear you in their deep voices. I see you when a dragonfly hangs around and settles on a chair rail then stares at me like he has something to say. I see you when I see our sons wearing your bracelets – one that you wore in Vietnam and the other you wore for the rest of your life.
I wish I could see you one more time – hell, who am I kidding, I wish you were still here all the time. I heard someone say once that our parents are our biggest cheerleaders and when they’re gone a part of that goes with them. That certainly was true with you – you made me believe I could do anything.
I’m in the pool as a 6 year old in the middle lane swimming breast stroke and giving it all I’ve got and you’re at the other end screaming for me to “Pull! Tracy pull!” in that booming radio voice that echoes throughout the swim meet.
You yank me up out of the pool by my arms when I reach the end and I don’t care if I’ve won or not, I just know you were so excited and so proud! I can still hear you in my head every time I swim laps, and I swear I’m right back in that pool swimming for a tiny medal.
Softball tryouts for the high school team are tomorrow and suddenly I want to learn to play and be good enough to make the team. No problem, you’re in the yard with me pouring it on so I have the confidence to go for it! I don’t make the team but it doesn’t matter – we have that memory to share and you make me feel like a success just for trying.
We’re at my high school graduation and you are so overjoyed you have tears in your eyes – one of the few times I saw you cry. I’m not sure if they were tears of true joy or sheer relief that I made it through but I just knew you wanted the best of life for me, and you knew I was on my way.
I can still hear you telling stories around the table after our Thanksgiving meal – your voice and your personality filling the room, and we want nothing more than you hear you talk and laugh all evening even though we all know these stories by heart.
You’re walking me down the aisle and telling me to remember that TJ and I need to be best friends and to trust each other with everything. You also said that things would be good but sometimes that things would be bad but that we had to hang in there and not give up on each other because things would always be good again – push through the ups and downs – you’ve never been more right about anything!
You and I doing a Story Corp interview for NPR – your voice that was meant for radio and we’re finally in the sound booth together. We’re recording a beautiful interview that allows me to hear your voice anytime I need to now that you are gone. It still gets me every time I hear the part where you say “I love you Darlin’…”
You never made me feel “less than” because I was a girl. I knew I was a good as any boy because you told me I was. That kind of confidence is invaluable as a girl competing with boys, as young women starting out in my career, and as Mom of two boys. You believed I was equal so I never questioned it. I chose a man who was good to me and treated me as his equal because you taught me that I deserved this in the way that you treated me.
You felt deeply and I do too – I always knew where I stood with you – for better or worse (when I was a teenage girl and testing your boundaries). You seemed invincible to me even when I was older and knew better – I just thought you’d live forever – or at least until you were a very old man. You survived so much – polio, serving in Vietnam, a rare brain disorder, cancer, so why not this?
Even when you got sick it just didn’t seem possible that you wouldn’t pull through – I mean you were MacGyver after all – you could fix anything with some duct tape and your Leatherman so why would this be any different.
Plus you and Mom were retiring and having so much fun – the rest of your lives ahead of you…
In our last conversation the day you died was the happiest I’d ever heard you – there was sheer joy in your voice as you talked about the beautiful day – the blue sky and huge puffy clouds. I felt your joy through the phone so when Mom called hours later to say you’d suddenly died it was a blinding shock. But it happened so quickly that I know you didn’t suffer, and I know you would have stayed if you could.
It was hard to imagine Mom without you – you two had such a beautiful marriage. I mean that most sincerely – you had such love and respect but you weren’t afraid to be honest or disagree with each other. You loved a strong, independent woman who was your equal. A lifelong friendship with passion and devotion woven into it. A friendship, a partnership and shared love of life and each other. But I see that your love lives on – she’s adjusting well and keeps your spirit alive. We miss you but we feel your presence at all our family gatherings.
Every person deserves a Dad like you – biggest fan, cheerleader, bear hugger, tear wiper, booming laugher, and supporter of crazy ideas. You believed in me and all my potential – you made me feel important, and loved and cherished – we all deserve that. I work hard to give to pass these gifts on. I wonder how my kids will remember me – I hope they know I was their biggest fan.
Dad, I treasure every minute we had together and though I would choose to have more, I am so very grateful for what we had!
You taught me how important it is to believe in those we love and to tell them how much they mean to us. So thank you for all the lessons you taught me – too many to name. Thank you for being that voice in my head that pushes me to keep going and reminds me that things will be good again. Thank you for loving us all. Your big personality filled every room you walked into so the void is huge now that you are gone but your spirit lives on in us all.
The way our parents love us forms who we are and our future relationships. As parents we must be acutely aware of this – we must love our children unconditionally. The way we love our children and the lessons they learn from us will be passed down for generations.
May every child have the gift of loving parents who cherish them beyond words and believe in them beyond reason. May every parent send their kids out into the world with these gifts and the world will be a better place…
Why the Term “Man Up” Misses the Point of Raising our Sons