A Letter to My Father

My favorite pic of Dad.

My favorite pic of Dad.

Dear Dad,

How are you? I haven’t spoken to you in a while. Well, not where you could hear it anyway. There was a time when I spoke out loud while I walked around your tiny house, in the rooms you painted and decorated, because I felt your presence so strong and tangible I could feel it. I apologized for not selling your house right away like you asked. I couldn’t, you see. I didn’t have time enough to say goodbye. I needed more time.

I went to your grave and talked to you also. That felt empty and not nearly as satisfying. I knew in my heart that you weren’t there anymore. That an empty shell was the only thing that remained. A shiny brass marker with a permanent vase, placed neatly upon a too-green square of grass–that was even less you. But even so, I cried when we drove the moving truck out of Arkansas, feeling as if I was somehow abandoning you there in that lonely place.

If you were here, I’d hand deliver the college graduation invitations I’m ordering for your granddaughters this fall. I know you’d be so proud of them.They are beautiful, smart, hilarious and have big hearts, and, as you would say, a couple of “smart alecs.” That’s definitely my influence. It’s in their blood.

I know it disappointed you when I didn’t finish school the first time. If you were here you’d know I finally did. I think you’d be proud of me too. I know you would.

For your granddaughters’ graduation, you’d probably offer to take everyone out to dinner–someplace not too expensive. You would love this hamburger place next to where I work. It’s right up your alley. You’d probably even try to eat a double and groan when you couldn’t. You always were on the lookout for a good burger place.

Speaking of granddaughters, there’s also, since you’ve passed, been a new granddaughter. Your Wild One got married to a hella nice guy and they had a cutie of a kid. There’s another one on the way. If it’s a boy they are naming him after you. I hope it’s a boy.

I wish you could have seen how well your only grandson has grown up. He’s tall and strong and caring–also musical. The last time we measured he was 6’4″ but I think he’s grown some more. I can just hear you laughing about “the air up there.” He’s also kind and loyal. That may be the thing I value most about him.

I wish you could have lived longer–so much longer. If you were here, I know you’d want to go see the Lazarus Project with us tonight. It’s no Shining, but few movies are. You’d sneak in candy, like always. It’s your fault I love scary movies so much. I used to sneakĀ all your horror paperbacks from your room when you weren’t looking–I remember reading Carrie and Cujo when I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11. I think one of the reasons I love scary stories so much is that I’ve always felt that connection with you. Another reason is that I’ve always felt if I read about something (or now, if I write about it), it works like a charm to keep the real-life horror stuff away. To some extent this works–I mean, I’ve never been attacked by a rabid dog, or suddenly developed telekinesis or anything, but that doesn’t mean scary stuff hasn’t happened.

Watching you die from cancer was 100 times more scary than Stephen King’s most horrifying tale. Seeing you fade away a little more daily, losing who you were, the parts of you that made you, you– neither one of us could have prepared for that. Those last days spent with you, while you still knew me, watching The Shining and Lifetime movies, meant so much to me. I think it meant a lot to you also. It tore my heart out and it’s never quite repaired. The hole is still there, but the blood has learned to pump nonetheless.

Thank you for the legacy you’ve left. One of generosity and humor, laughter and love.

A legacy of hard work and its benefits, of not quitting just because something’s hard.

A legacy of earning what you work for, of asking for nothing but giving a lot.

A legacy of contentment and value of family. Of getting mad and getting over it (mostly).

A legacy of owning your mistakes and asking others to own theirs. Of never, ever giving up.

I won’t give up.

Love you, Dad. Can’t wait to see you again.