It never fails. The holidays are here and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get my mind off my dad. Then again, he’s never far from the front of my mind. After four years, one would think I would be coping better with the loss. Not so much.
I took an advanced composition course this semester. Most of our assignments were memoirs. I took the opportunity to try to exorcise some demons and wrote about things that were very near to my heart, or my nerves. I believe that being transparent is important when writing any sort of personal non-fiction. So I wrote about my father. What follows is the paper I submitted.
Just Like My Father
When I look at my life, I can see imprints left from many who have influenced me through the years. Some of those impressions have left me for the better and others for the worse. When I look at all of those who have helped shape me into who I am today, no one has had more impact than my father. He’s impacted my life on every level, from the superficial to the fundamental.
I look a lot like my dad- the twinkling, mischievous eyes, his unruly hair, and his stocky build. I even have his cleft chin. Few knew he had one because it was always hidden under his beard or goatee, but I recall sticking my fingers into the dimple under all that hair when I was young. I don’t ever remember him not having some sort of facial hair. I have his chunky “man hands” and his large feet that caused me to be very clumsy in my youth and still do from time to time. The similarities don’t end with the physical features.
I have his love of all things geek. Star Wars, Star Trek, and anything comic related were exposed to me at a young age. Our musical tastes are so similar that we even describe it the same way, “I have very eclectic taste in music. My music collection is all across the board.” Maybe I picked it up from him but I remember saying that from a very young age. Our sense of humor is in line as well. Occasionally dry, always sarcastic, a bit witty and sometimes twisted, our humor isn’t for everyone.
We would go into thrift stores quite often when I was little. I think my dad bought everything but underwear second hand! We would go every few weeks to browse the stores. I remember going shopping and putting on the old, goofy 70’s clothes that were still on the racks. We always has a good time in those stores and Dad always found what he needed, even if it took a few trips. I remember the pride that my dad would have when he got a great deal. He’d brag about it like he’d won the lottery. I know why he did because It’s something I do now myself. Dad taught me to be proud of being cheap.
My dad has been my greatest teacher in every sense of the word. I remember him getting The Reader’s Digest delivered to his house. We would look up the word of the day and try to use it as often as we could until the next issue came. After we got the internet at home, he would have a word emailed to him each day. It became a form of friendly competition between us to keep track of how many times the word was used. Through these competitions, he taught me to love words and how to use them well.
He would tell me stories about the things he went through in his youth and things he did as a child, good or bad. He admitted to me he wasn’t a perfect child; sometimes, he was about as far from perfect as one could get. Through these stories, he taught me that it’s okay to be imperfect, to make mistakes. “That’s how you learn, Amanda,” he would say. “Besides, only one perfect person ever walked this earth and look what happened to Him.” He usually delivered this line with a wink after a long lecture. It was his way of letting me know we were okay and all was forgiven.
My dad has never been very into religion, but he’s always been a believer. We used to sit on the end of the pier or atop a rock, watching the waves from Lake Michigan crash in. He’d stare out over the lake and say, “I’ve always felt closer to God here than in any man-made church. Let nature be your church, Amanda, and you’ll never be away from God.” Maybe it’s the Chippewa in him, the heart of our ancestors, that call him to nature, but it’s something I adhere to myself. He taught me how to reach my spiritual side through these quiet moments. He knew how to help me through the loud times, too.
While I was growing up, I clashed a lot with my mother. Some of it was normal mother daughter turmoil, some of it was much worse. When it would get worse, she would send me off to stay with my dad. These were some of my happiest times. My dad talked to me, he listened to me, and he was there. Whenever I needed someone to lean on, my dad was usually the first person I turned to. He was sympathetic but also practiced “tough love”. “Amanda, I can tell you what to do, or not to do, until I’m blue in the face. Fact is, you’re your own person and you need to make your own mistakes. My job is to catch you when you fall.” He allowed me to be an individual and gave me my first real tastes of being responsible for my own actions.
While I was living with him, I received two separate reprimands from teachers. In both cases, he asked my side, called the teacher to get their side, and came to his own conclusion on how to proceed with things from there. In the first circumstance, he made me go back and apologize to the teacher. In the second, he agreed with my stance and felt the teacher was in the wrong. In the first circumstance, he taught me that it was okay to admit my mistakes and apologize for them. In the second, he showed me that just because someone was a “superior” didn’t always make them right and that he would always be there to back me if he felt I was in the right.
In our fights, he taught me that just because you were mad at someone didn’t mean you stopped loving them. My mother’s love always felt conditional, but my dad made me feel loved unconditionally. I only remember my dad really yelling at me about five times during my teens. Instead, he talked to me. Like one adult to another. Any teenager couldn’t ask for anything more.
When I got married, my dad and my step-father both walked me down the aisle. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. My dad cried when he saw me in my dress and again as we danced to Bob Carlie’s “Butterfly Kisses”. I had seen him cry a few times before that day as well. He showed me that real men can show their emotions and still be masculine.
As I grew up and ventured out on my own, my dad continued to be a steady presence in my life. Whenever I needed an escape, I would call dad and we’d talk politics, religion, football, kids, or anything. I realized he wasn’t just my dad. He was my very best friend. No matter what I was going through, he was always there. When my now ex-husband found himself in legal trouble that threatened to destroy our family, I decided not to share it with my dad. He eventually found out about the legal turmoil, like all good dads do, and scolded me saying, “Amanda, how can I be your champion if you won’t let me.” After all those years, I was still his little girl.
My dad taught me how to be a good friend by being a good friend to me. Watching him raise myself and my sister, I learned how I wanted to parent my own children. He was my example on how to be a good spouse, always communicating and striving for compromise. My dad was everything I wanted to be.
Four years ago, I got the worst phone call of my life. Three in the morning, I answer my phone. It’s my step mother. “Amanda, I don’t know how to tell you this. Your dad died tonight.” My father, my greatest teacher, my best friend left me far too soon. The man who I could always turn to no matter the problem, wasn’t here for my biggest problem yet. I never considered at 25 I would lose my father. My heart hasn’t been the same since.
Still, I trudge on. Some days are better than others. Sometimes the stress of life gets to me or something happens that I’m bursting to share with him and I still reach that phone, ready to dial his number. I have to remind myself that I don’t need the phone anymore. I can reach my support system anytime now, no dial tone required. I just need to look within and all around me. I often go for walks through the woods or down to that rock or the pier by the lake just to talk to him. He’s in my heart, in everything. My greatest teacher, the man I look so much like, is still teaching me. He’s teaching me about coping with great loss and moving on, even if it’s just one small step at a time. I am lucky to have been blessed with such a great father, teacher, and friend.
I wanted to pay tribute to a man who was so much more to me than just a father. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to let go? Hopefully, my blues will subside soon. I know Dad would kick my ass if I spent another Christmas in Grinch mode.