The following was written in 2009, not long after my dad passed away from cancer. I thought I would share it on here in honor of his birthday; he would have turned 78 today. As hard as certain dates are for me, like the date of his death, Christmas, etc., his birthday always hits me the hardest. I don’t think the pain of losing my dad will ever go away, not completely. I have learned that it is okay to grieve forever, as long as I don’t let it hinder my living. Though my dad is gone from this earth, it is up to me to keep him alive in my heart and to make sure his grandchildren never forget how wonderful he was. Whether you lost your loved one recently or years ago, don’t ever let go of those precious memories. They are an important part of who you are, and if you regard them in the right way, the loss of that person can fuel your future, making you strive to be the best you can. I wish my dad was still here today. But five years after his passing, I can see how losing him opened my eyes to the world around me. Everything I do, I do for him. I know he can’t see the choices I make, but I like to think if he could he would be proud.
Hesitantly I take the photo album off the shelf and open it to my favorite page. It is a picture of my father and me at my fourth birthday pool party in the month of June, 1983. Someone had given me a make-up set for the occasion and he’s helping apply a thin layer of pink lipstick to my young lips.
I close the album before the tears pooling in my eyes can drop onto the pages. The best memories of my childhood are times spent with my dad, yet he passed away on February 15th of this year. I have tried to stuff these memories into a dark corner in my head, afraid that to relive them is to ache all the more for the loss of something that can never be replaced. I have tried to convince myself that it is better to let the memories die along with him, to forgo the bliss of happy times in order to ignore the pain of losing him.
But on this day I resolve to embrace what I have tried so hard in the past few months to push away. With a deep breath I close my eyes and allow myself to drift slowly to the place where fragments of memory trickle in, and then I feel a great whoosh of emotion as it all floods back to me. I brace myself and fall back in time to where a little girl’s world revolved around her Daddy…
Saturdays were when we went to town, just the two of us, leaving my mother to some peace and quiet at home. Our trips were predictable and commonplace. I would climb up into his black Ford with the red interior and we would take the scenic route from Maysville to Jefferson. As old country songs softly filled the cab I would gaze out the window at the clumps of majestic trees broken only by the patches of grassy pastures. I would point to the horses and cattle that grouped themselves here and there and he would smile in wonder of the countryside as if he were seeing it through my own tender eyes. Often he would tell me stories of his own childhood. The funny things he and his cousins would do. The tricks he would play on his sisters. His horrible fear of rabid dogs back then. Sometimes I would sing songs to him that I had made up and he would delight in my creativity to make words and music intertwine with my tunes about pets and places and people.
Among stops at the hardware store, quick browses at the small shops downtown, and payment of the electric bill at JEMC, our trips would often include visiting his parents at their home in Dry Pond. My grandfather would let me help myself to his peanut brittle and Danish cookies and Daddy would play a game of checkers with me. I always revelled in the times I won the game because he always made it a challenge and never let me win on purpose.
In the hot days of summer my favorite part of Saturdays was the stop at the old Langford store where Daddy would buy us each a cold bottled YooHoo and Mr. Langford would try to bribe me into talking to him with promise of a piece of bubble gum. I would duck my head shyly and pull close to Daddy’s side while Mr. Langford would chuckle and claim “That’s the most bashful child I’ve ever seen” and hand me the piece of bubblegum anyway. As we left I would look up at Daddy and grin. He would laugh and help me back into the truck and we would enjoy our cold drinks on the trip back home.
The best memories from my childhood revolve around Daddy. Adolescence brought more bittersweet instances, as a father tried to hold on to the child, while the child tried even harder to grow up and branch out into her own patterns. That is the way of a teenager. This made for arguments, hurt, resentment. Still, there were the happy moments. The jokes. The recollections of past years. The sense of being the same in so many ways. Despite being adopted, he never treated me like I wasn’t his own flesh and blood, and people who didn’t know otherwise would swear I looked just like him. We shared a lot of common interests, so beyond being a father to me, he was a great friend and a wise teacher. He taught me the importance of being polite and considerate of others, of working hard and saving for tomorrow. My daddy was truly a good man. Forget the bad temper and the occasional criticisms. Beyond that, he was trying to mold me into someone who could make it in this world.
I have not “made it” in this world as well as he and I had hoped. I feel like I let him down many times, though he never seemed to stop loving me. He had a hard time accepting and understanding my mental illness (as we all did), and I was ashamed of being considered “broken” to someone who meant so much to me. In my humility I distanced myself from him the last few years of his life. We still talked on the phone daily, but I rarely visited. I live to regret this now, as I wonder if he knew when he died how much I still thought the world of him. How I will never live a day on this earth not wondering what he would have me to do, what paths would make him proud. For all the times he helped me during my life, whether financially or with his wisdom and advice, I can never, ever repay.
I had the privilege of seeing his face light up every time I brought my daughters over to see him. He was such a good Pawpaw to the girls. It was the most beautiful sight in the world to see him outside playing with them. Together they would plant sunflowers, pick blackberries, and feed the birds. He would help Kayley find rocks for her collection, just as he had for me when I was that age. She and Emily would giggle in delight every time he rode them around in the wagon. Because of Daddy, my girls now have memories that mirror the ones I have.
Reliving these memories hurts. It creates a lump in the throat, a strangled intensity that will not pass. But it is important to keep these recollections alive, to never hide them in the corner, to never let them fade into useless frozen matter. These memories are my only lifeline to the greatness of my father. I will not abandon these thoughts, these feelings, these regrets, no matter how much it pains me. I will not abandon my father’s legacy, and I will do all I can to protect it.
Daddy, I miss you. I will always be your little girl.