Several years ago, my Dad died. Had I been able to speak at his funeral, this is some of what I would have shared:
A broken marriage left a little girl wondering for over twenty years if her Daddy loved her. Life decisions that were made beyond her control, left her without his guidance in her formative years. Her story changed, however, the moment she decided as an adult with her own children, to contact this man who was absent from her day to day life, but present in her daily thoughts.
This is some of our story.
I realized that if I was ever going to see my Father, I had to be the one to make it happen. I summoned the courage to pick up the phone and dial his number. I explained that I wanted to reconnect, that I wasn’t exactly sure if he was interested, and asked if he would like to meet me and my family. His response of “Well, I’ve already met you, but yes I would like to meet your family," made me smile and we made plans for him to come to our home.
There were a few awkward moments after I opened the door, watching as he entered, I was a bit taken back by his appearance. Although he was tall, he wasn’t nearly as tall as I remembered nor was he as big. I remembered him being like this, “Giant-Man”. My confused look caused him to ask if I was alright and when I told him what I was thinking, he smirked as he said, “Well, maybe that’s because you were like 5, and very short as I recall.”
And that’s how it started. His semi-sarcastic response was the first of many, and I learned very quickly where my sarcasm came from.
Several phone conversations and numerous dinners with late-night talks, allowed us to sort through the broken pieces and we started a new journey together. He quickly became an important part of my life and my boys enjoyed having another Grandpa. I finally understood and believed, he loved me all along.
My boys learned a lot from my Dad. When they were little, they learned that he brought a boatload of junk food every time he came to babysit and often, tho' it was no-ones birthday in our family, brought a birthday cake - icing flowers and all because as he said, "It's somebody's birthday today - and I like cake." I'm still convinced my love of cake and chocolate is genetic. He would have at least one totally gross story to tell them that would, if they were lucky, make their Mom want to gag and as they grew older, they learned of his antics in high school as he shared the story of re-wiring something in the school office that could have gotten him in a lot of trouble had anyone found out - I was waiting for him to give the important advice of thinking before doing something foolish but instead, with a smirk he just said, “the key, is to not get caught”. He shared that Vicks Vapor Rub wasn’t only used for a chest cold, but to mask the smell of a decomposing body, and they learned that homicide investigators school was where he went for a few weeks of “vacation” in the summer.
He taught his grandsons about respect & honor, and his patriotism is something he should be remembered for. He shared stories of being a Pathfinder in the Army and what the motto of, “First In, Last Out” really meant. He explained the importance of always being aware of one’s surroundings, including that it’s best to sit with your back against a wall when dining out – you know, so you can see what’s going on and be ready with “a plan” should something go awry. He said self-defense is important but defending those unable to defend themselves is crucial, and most importantly, he told them he loved them and always encouraged them to work hard and follow their dreams.
His only brother preceded him in death and he never quite got over the loss he felt - his pride for Ron was evident every time he shared a story of their shenanigans. I can’t help but smile knowing they are together again.
It was about eight years after our reunion when I received a call that while on his lunch break at work, he suffered a stroke. He survived, but his body and his mind were broken and he was confined to a nursing home. After rehabilitation, he was able to once again be an active part of our lives but unfortunately, the stroke had taken its toll and things would never be the same. I felt like I had just gotten him back and felt cheated – like I was entitled more time because we had lost so much of my childhood, but it was also at this time that I began realizing we aren’t promised tomorrow and must treasure every day we have with those we love. I believe He too came to this realization, as the man who rarely said “I love you,” began saying it almost every time we spoke.
One particular day he told me that I would be happy to know that in the future he would be in heaven. My look of alarm caused him to follow that revelation with, “I believe now and I’ll be in heaven when it’s my time to go.” There’s no doubt in my mind, based on the sly grin formed on his face, he knew exactly what he was implying the first time. Of course, I hugged him tight and said how wonderful this was and, after drying some tears thought to myself, “It’s ok now – we’ll have eternity.”
One of the most difficult times in my life is when I received that phone call telling me he had passed away. I had talked to him just two days prior and although he sounded tired, he sounded fine. He had a few medical episodes through the years when we were expecting to lose him; the fact that this wasn’t one of those times, certainly made it more difficult to hear.
The Military service at Fort Indiantown Gap Cemetery gave a tiny glimpse of my Father’s life. I hope those who attended were able to understand that the man who was honored that day was so many things to so many people. He was a hard worker, a good friend, a Patriot, an Uncle, a Grandfather but most importantly, he was my Dad.
I’m proud of my Father. I’m proud of the influence he had on my life. I’m proud to be called his daughter and I’m so thankful for the time I was given. I know I will see him again and we'll be together - in a place where nothing is ever broken.