I miss my dad every day, not just on Father’s Day, which is coming up quickly. As the years go by, I feel closer to him in some ways than I did when he was alive. He left me when I was 27, armed with fantastic advice that didn’t make sense until I had more time under my belt.
It’s been 8 years since he died, and also nearly 8 years since I found out I was going to be a mother. Talk about the circle of life playing out all at once. Nine days after my dad died, I found out I was pregnant. Fast forward to now. The brood has grown to three. My babies have helped heal me, salve for the incredible loss of a parent, and have forced me to grow and change as a person in ways I could never have imagined. Since becoming a parent, I’ve had more than a few chances to reflect on the advice my father gave me. Parent to child, it all sank in.
PSA/Warning: My father wasn’t a warm and fuzzy sitcom Danny Tanner kind of guy. His words of wisdom, and the delivery thereof, were nothing short of unconventional. This was part of his charm. Offended? Sorry, not sorry. His advice has turned out to be the kind that I have only realized the value and weight of through experience in an epiphany ah-ha kind of moment later on, where I suddenly feel 85% smarter than I was second before.
Here’s the highlight reel:
Picture my first day of high school, September 1994, the days of thigh highs and pseudo-Catholic girl skirts, thanks to Britney (“Oh bae bae bae beeeey-beeee.”) I just turned 14. My dad drove me home, sparing me from me trudging in the 90-something degree heat and nearly 100 percent humidity that NJ never fails for during the first week of school.
Like all good parents do, he asked the standard question: “So, how was the first day?”
Me: “Meh.” (Standard socially acceptable answer from a teenager.)
Silence. And we waited together, watching the blinking amber traffic light at the cross section through his work van’s windshield, air conditioner humming, the tools still swaying in the back of the van. He broke the silence: “Remember honey…only the mean girls have fun in high school.” BAM. I know I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Sit on that one. The traffic cleared, and we crossed.
Translation: Don’t compromise your values for popularity.
Dinner at the potential father in-law’s, circa 1999. I’m 19. I was heading out the door, fluffing my hair, doing the 1, 2, 3, “how do I look” inspection in the mirror in our foyer. I saw him watching me from the couch in the reflection, trying not to smudge my eyeliner.
Dad: “What are you bringing?”
Dad: “Good. Because only assholes show up empty handed.”
Me. “Bye, Dad!”
Translation: Be generous.
September, 2006. I’m 26 in a few days. When my dad was going from specialist to treatments and back again trying to get better, I’d sometimes go along to keep him company. This, a gorgeous early day, was one of those days. He had to get a biopsy on his leg that day, and knew that he’d be in pain later. Despite using crutches at that point, he insisted on driving – and parking, and refusing to use the handicap hang tag. Stubborn? Yup.
He’s driving his Sprinter Van, and scouting parking:
Me: “Dad, you parked in a no parking zone. (Gesturing to the more than obvious sign next to his van) You’ll get a ticket.”
Him: “And if I park in that parking garage down the street, (gesturing to the more than obvious lot down the street), I’ll pay $40, at least. If I park here, when I hobble out later after this biopsy, I’ll have, say, a $30 ticket and I won’t have to walk as far. Screw ‘em.”
Translation: Take calculated risks, and don’t look back.
My dad was not a Hallmark card talking, let me-take-you-to-your-ballet-lesson, can I come to the Girl Scout dance type of guy, though I more often than not wished for some after-school TV special version of that father as a girl. Now, I wouldn’t have wished him any other way. The day before he died, our last conversation, I held his hand and told him that he was the perfect dad for me. He tried to tell me of the mistakes he made and what he should have done better through an oxygen mask, and I shushed him. I didn’t mean he was the perfect dad – he was perfect for me. He knew that his daughter, who followed his advice and was a good girl in high school and didn’t have *too* much fun, meant it.