I have been without my Dad for 29 years. I can't believe it. 29 years is a whole lifetime - the amount of time that someone can mature into a true adult.
Now that I am the mother of two teens, I feel that I am a "sage" for them. I know that I have lived long enough to have the life experiences and wisdom to provide direction to my kids and their friends, if they want it. And yet, it still feels odd that I should have this role.
After all, I was the "baby" of the family - younger than any of my biological siblings or any of my siblings that came when my Dad remarried after my mother's passing.
I was nicknamed the "kid" in my family, and was also often the youngest of many of my friends (I hung out with kids grades ahead of me in high school). That made me one of the last to drive, finish high school, turn 21, etc.
I was always looking for more experienced people to advise me. I probably did that even as a young adult since my Dad died when I was 22, just two weeks shy of my 23rd birthday. I still had my life in order and was getting things done, but emotionally, I was a bit of a lost soul without Dad. To stay connected to him, I wore Chicago Bears suspenders that he'd worn (he'd had cancer and lost weight, and needed them to hold up his pants). I had to have some tangible way to feel tethered to my Dad, so those suspenders were it.
I no longer had my Dad to sit up late with and talk to after he'd watched an old black and white movie on Channel 9, and I was coming home from a date or time with friends. I no longer had him around to get a slice of Barnaby's or Garibaldi's pizza with and talk.
From the simple to the more complicated things in this life, my Dad was gone from me.
He was not here to see me graduate from college, walk me down the aisle, celebrate job promotions, see his grandchildren, visit our home for holidays or even get a slice of pizza with.
There is an emptiness, a surreal hollowness you always feel when someone you love has passed away. Last week, our family attended a wake for my husband's uncle. I remarked to my daughter how odd it was to be at that funeral home since it was where my Dad was waked. It's completely gutted and redone and looks nothing like it did when we had services for my Dad there, but just knowing it was the same place felt odd.
I told my daughter that I couldn't believe my Dad had been gone so long. "Really?" she said. "I never thought you could think of it that way. To me, he's never been here, so it seems he's been gone forever."
What she said was very true from her perspective. She is only 17 and never met him. But I can still recall sitting in the living room of the house I grew up in, talking with my Dad about life, the universe, our existence, God, and what may happen next. He said, "Someday, I will be gone. It's hard for me to believe. I just feel so alive I can't imagine my life ever ending."
I remember that like it was yesterday. I can still see him sitting there, reclined in his favorite chair with his feet up, resting his elbow on the arm rest and mildly gesturing as he was turned to face me as we spoke. He wasn't ill then, had practically never really been ill his whole life long. That's why when he got cancer, everyone was dumbfounded. It was impossible to imagine such a healthy, strong person ever getting ill.
But now he is gone.
Today is Father's Day. I remember many of these from the past very well. My Dad cherished anything you gave him and was very appreciative. Whatever you gave him he found a use for, and although he had his favorites, he would enjoy any meal or dessert you made for him. He loved life and was rarely, if ever, in a bad mood. He could find joy in almost anything.
As a child of The Depression and a teen fighting in World War II, my Dad took a unique perspective on life that so few people seem to be able to grasp today. Life was hard, and so to survive and flourish, his worldview was basically joy in the moment - which now many call "Mindfulness." He didn't have to meditate, read books or see a specialist or guru to think and react to life this way. He just did it; it was the way he lived and was second nature to him.
He was used to doing without, and it didn't bother him if had to. He was never jealous or envious of others. He spoke plainly and truly (although he WAS an imaginative, interesting story teller) and always said what he meant and stood behind it. If he needed to, he would apologize and had a full open heart to forgive others. He was never cold, distant, brooding or pensive - just warm and gentle. Mostly, he was just a golden person, practically saint-like without even knowing it.
He handled life's crisis as they came. He didn't fret or over-worry, and he didn't assume the worst would happen. In fact, he always had a bright vision of the future.
It seems harder than ever to find this mindset these days, let alone pass it along to your children. The world we live in is materialistic, unkind, self-absorbed, impatient, and restless. All the things he was not.
So all I can do is keep his presence and story alive by repeating it to my children. And look for him, by paying attention to the things that made up his life - pizza, sports, WWII, classic cars, big band music, NYC, faith and good conversation.
I have also turned to things at one time I would have found completely silly. I have heard over and over that seeing pennies - "Pennies from Heaven" - are a sign that someone you love is present spiritually. Two were on the ground last night as I finished vacuuming my car at the car wash. They looked clean but were probably full of germs. I picked them up anway.
And cardinals. Every so often, I see a red cardinal, often at times when I'm either mulling over a problem or looking into my backyard enjoying nature. As I was writing this just minutes ago, a cardinal touched down on the landscape bricks of my neighbor - I had just been thinking of including the cardinal reference in this piece, and one appeared. There's truly no logic regarding the pennies or the birds appearing, I know this. But it brings my broken heart joy, so I will let myself believe it is my Dad letting me know he is there.
Finally, this song from the musical "Phantom of the Opera" has brought me to tears thinking of my Dad, and I actually don't cry very easily. The lyrics are beautiful and speak to my heart - except the last stanza - I have no desire to end my emotions missing my Dad - and will never say goodbye - but will look for him everywhere and find his soul in pennies, in birds and in all things Marty.
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