I miss my dad so much right now. Today it’s been exactly one month since his passing. I miss so many things and it all floods into my awareness at the same time. I miss his voice, and the way he said, “I love you.” The other day I recalled how my dad would congratulate me for doing something good at work. He used to always say, “You’re kickin’ ass and takin’ names, sweetie.” Tonight, I miss how he would tell me everything was going to be okay and that he knew I’d figure it out because he raised a strong young woman. I miss his confidence in me.
We only really got to know one another over the last 8 years and that time together meant so much to me, especially now in retrospect. I remember that evening so well. I was standing out on our back porch by the pine tree that sits outside of my window. It was summer, one of the last summers I spent with my family in Michigan. The sky was glowing lava red with splashes of blood orange and yellow. I miss those summer sunsets.
My dad walked out, cocktail in hand. At the time, his cocktail of choice was a large glass of vodka with about a teaspoon of club soda and grapefruit juice. He walked right up next to me, stood silently for a few minutes and then very clearly asked if I thought he was an alcoholic. I said, “I can’t answer that for you, Dad. Do you think you have a problem with drinking?” He said “no,” with a sweetness that came across as quite genuine. I said, “Well then, turns out you’re not an alcoholic.”
He then proceeded to apologize for not being a very good dad but that he’d like the opportunity to try. I told him I’d really like that. That all I wanted was for him to be interested in my life, and to participate in my life with me. The sunset faded to a haze of purple and pink, and from that day on, my dad was more present with me than he ever had been. He asked me questions about work, my friends, my boyfriends and never gave me suggestions unless I asked. He was a very good dad.
Alcohol, poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking is what inevitably killed my father at the young and abrupt age of 66. He had advanced cardiovascular disease that went undiagnosed and his body just shut down. I do believe my dad drank too much, and I believe it was an old and bad coping mechanism. I think he did it to relieve stress, to not feel, to entertain himself, to numb his boredom, to forget even. Because of some of the tragic things that happened throughout my childhood, I think he bore a lot of guilt and shame. And unfortunately, he was not willing to confront those demons.
I’m grateful I said everything I wanted to say to him. I’m grateful I had the courage to heal myself, confront my own resentments and hurts and then love my dad wholeheartedly for 8 years. I’m grateful that I was able to enjoy his company, his humor, his mocking my “libralism.” I’m grateful that he put in the effort, something I noticed every single day. And just two days before he passed, he left me what might have been his first voicemail ever, where he congratulated me on my new apartment and how everything was going well over there. He called me sweetie one last time. He said I love you one last time. I’m so grateful for all of that.
There is a special bond between a parent and their child. If you currently have an estranged or messy relationship with one or both of your parents, but hope in your heart that you can somehow make it fruitful, I would like to stand up and say that it is possible. I worked tirelessly at reestablishing my relationship with my father and I was able to. And then, I was able to enjoy him for the remainder of his years. A gift I wish I could give everyone.
Gratitude for the shiny moments you get with someone truly special is what turns grief into happy remembrance.