The other night I was on the phone with my eldest sister (I'm sure she'll appreciate that description). We were talking about being parents. I enjoy these discussions with her because I think she and my brother-in-law do an amazing job, are role models even. And even though my sister is eleven years older than I am (another fact she may have preferred I not share), the fact that we're both parents is something we have in common. Not to mention, her children are aged 12-19, giving me and my wife a sneak preview of what's possibly to come (it's a little frightening).
Anyway, we were talking and I made a reference to our parents... plural... and she corrected me. So I said, "I don't refer to Daddy in the past tense because he's still my father even though he's dead."
We never stop being parents. Even when they're grown up and out of the house. Even when we're gone. He'll always be my dad. I'll always be her dad.
And that's what I'd like to talk about this Father's Day. My dad has been gone for more than eight years, but he is still a big part of my life. He lives in my heart and in my mind and in my stories about him. He lives every time my daughter says his name, since every time she says his name it's like she is saying it for the first time. Every time she sees a picture of him and recognizes him and identifies him. Every time she asks about him. Magic.
Everything I do as a father I do because of what he did. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Directly or indirectly. He lives through me and my actions as a son and a husband. And as a dad.
He's the one who taught me the importance of a hard day's work. He's the one I told one hot summer afternoon as we were digging and toiling inside a gigantic hole in someone's backyard... a hole that would eventually become a swimming pool... that while I am certainly capable of working in the field with him, I'm more suited for the store. "Dad," I said honestly, "I don't like getting my hands dirty, literally."
He agreed... because he didn't want the same life for me. So I worked in the store from that day on until the day it closed. I developed invaluable communication skills that I still use professionally today. He lives every day when I'm at work.
He lives in me through the things I say to my daughter... because of the things he didn't say. Well, that's not quite fair... maybe he did say them and I don't remember. Maybe he wanted to say them and thought he had more time. Things like "I'm proud of you," "you're so smart," "you're so beautiful." I say these things when I feel them because I want my daughter to feel them and to know them. My dad was a father in a different time when men were not overly affectionate to their sons. Besides, when we were growing up his primary role was of enforcer. He was intimidating.
|A daily reminder|
He lives in the frame on the bureau in our bedroom... in pictures of the two of us, one from a childhood vacation to Puerto Rico, one from outside the tuxedo shop the day before my wedding. He lives in a keepsake box next to that frame. A box where I store cufflinks, and the watches I don't wear anymore. One of those watches is his (See? No past tense).
There is also a note in that box. A note that he wrote in preparation for our rehearsal dinner, where he wanted to speak. It's a bunch of random thoughts, memories, about me. He jotted down everything he could remember about me from the day I was born until when I was in college. Random thoughts, memories, stuff scrawled diagonally, underlined, in the margins. All about me.
|The memory box|
Its a map of my life that would make no sense to anyone who doesn't know me. But on this note, forever, lives what I always wanted to hear him say. My parents always remarked about the amazing coincidence of the numbers surrounding my birth. I was born at 6:06pm, I weighed 7 lbs., 7 ozs., on August 8th. 6/06, 7/07, 8/08. They always talked about it.
|Dad's words to me|
The only thought, the only words I ever needed from him, live on this note, right there at the top beside those numbers, in his handwriting: "knew he was special."
He didn't have to say it. I live it.
Here's a specific example of how my dad lives through me: Click here to read more.