I don’t have a lot of “things” that belonged to my Dad. I have a mug that I had engraved with “chairman of the bar” because he built a family bar in the basement of my first home—a little cape cod. I have the cuff links that he wore when he married my Mom. They matched the earrings he gave her, that were stolen when that little cape cod was broken into about 20 years ago. I have a note he gave me when I was going through a rough time as a financially poor, single Mom. It says “Dear Kay, Real love is given freely-without any hidden costs or fine print. Please accept this gift of love. Merry Christmas. Love, Dad”. And, I have his green sweater, the “Mr. Rogers Sweater.” I wear that sweater when I’m cold. It’s old and missing a button and it’s perfect.
My Dad chose me. He didn’t have to. He wanted me in his life. Sure, he wanted to marry my mother but in the 1950’s “package deals” like Mom and me weren’t “typical”. He chose US.
When I was a little girl he built me a blue stove and hutch. He built it up in the attic, late at night, when I was asleep. It was a Christmas present; an amazing Christmas present. It was a gift of love.
When I was a girl scout he built beautiful, white arch for all of us to walk through when we were at a badge ceremony. It was a gift of love.
He cried with me each of the three times I had a miscarriage. Those tears were gifts of love.
He beamed when I graduated from high school with offers from colleges I didn’t even apply to. He beamed again when I graduated from college even though it took almost 20 years because I was a single Mom working all day and going to school at night. Those smiles, were gifts of love.
He had a beautiful voice and he used it to sing at home, to sing in a quartet and to sing at church. He taught me to drive. He was an amazing grandfather. He bought Sara (my daughter, his first grandchild) her first dress. He went to the store himself and picked it out (not so typical in the 1970s). When Erin was born four years later, he fell in love with her too. All those were gifts of love.
He made perfect grilled cheese sandwiches. They were perfect because he didn’t rush them. He valued the process. He had a dry sense of humor, with impeccable timing. He built things and repaired things. He was patient and kind and always put the people he loved first. Yes, those, too, were all gifts of love.
When he was dying, I often sat and talked with him. He was only 67 years old. He had cancer. He talked about his life. He talked about being in the Navy. He talked about meeting Mom and how much he loved her, and he asked me to watch out for her. He talked about smoking and about how, a decade after he quit, it was killing him. He talked about regretting that he wouldn’t let their dog Sparky up in the sofa. He talked about dying and heaven and life after this life. Then, WE talked about his dying. What a gift to be able to have that kind of conversation….for both of us.
He came home from the hospital a couple of days before Christmas, his last Christmas. December 29th is my daughter Sara’s birthday. He would die less than a week later. We celebrated Sara’s 23rd birthday in Mom and Dad’s living room. He was very frail, he was a skeleton of the man he had been physically. He was in pain. When we carried the cake into the room, where he was propped up on the sofa, he began to sing. He sang Happy Birthday to Sara in his beautiful tenor voice. He turned to her, his beloved granddaughter and said, “I saved all my last singing for you.”
My Dad was a gentleman.
My Dad was gentle man.
My Dad was a spiritual man.
My Dad was a spirit-filled man.
My Dad was a peaceful man.
My Dad was a man of peace.
I know that not everyone gets to have the gift of a Dad like that. I know that not everyone gets to be “chosen”. I know that not everyone would have a story like this to write, and I know that makes me blessed.