I have a cousin who remembers dates. He can tell you the exact date and day that pretty much anything happened in his life. So I shouldn’t have been surprised this morning when he called to remind me what happened 20 years ago today. The only problem was, it was a date I’d just as soon not remember, because it was 20 years ago today that my dad died.
20 years later, and it’s still hard to write about it. My dad was special. He was quiet and smart, with a dry sense of humor he only showed if he liked you. He climbed the ranks of corporate America armed with a high school diploma and years of Naval experience, vaulting over folks with college degrees. But his success came at a price: he traveled a lot of my childhood, only coming home on weekends. But his work took us to Europe and Asia and for 14 years we lived overseas, exploring the capitals of the world. It was quite a childhood.
My dad taught me to work hard. That I should only buy things when I truly need them, not just because I want them. He taught me to never buy a house (I should have listened). He tried to teach me to be a Republican, but failed miserably on that one. From him, I inherited my wanderlust – when he was in the States, he loved to hop in his little red sports car and drive from town to town, visiting family and friends.
My father didn’t swear. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t gamble. He went to Atlantic City on business and was given a roll of quarters for the slot machines. He pocketed his quarters and watched everyone else lose theirs. The only food he didn’t like was artichokes – he called them “grass.” He was easy – he’d eat anything, go anywhere, do anything.
He loved his dogs – we always had Airedales. And he loved his daughters. We were his treasure, and we knew it. He gave us a good life, sent us to college, bought us cars, and was always there when we needed a wise word or a steady shoulder. We loved him beyond reason, and couldn’t imagine life without him.
Until the morning I called home, and my mother told me he was gone. He had gone to bed, and never woke up. Ironic that he had been to his cardiologist that morning, who gave him a clean bill of health and told him to come back in six months.
I’ve finally stopped watching a movie and thinking I should tell him about it, because he would love it. Or seeing something in a store and thinking I should buy it for him. But I still hear his voice in my ear. He watches over me from wherever he is, reminding me of the lessons he taught me. I’m still motivated by not wanting to disappoint him, by wanting to make him proud of me.
It’s hard to believe he’s been gone 20 years. I’ll always miss him, and wish we hadn’t lost him so early. There were so many stories he never got to tell me. I wonder what he’d think of where and who I am these days. I like to think he’d be proud of me.
I miss you, Daddy.