I don’t have a lot of “things” that belonged to my Dad. I have the cuff links he wore when he married my Mom. I have the note he gave me, as a young mother, that 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 “Mr. Rogers Sweater.” It’s old, missing a button, and perfect.
My Dad chose me. Sure, he wanted to marry my Mom, but in the 1950s, “package deals” like us weren’t “typical.” He chose both of us.
When I was a little girl, he spent late nights up in our attic to surprise me with a blue stove and hutch he built for me for Christmas. It was a gift of love. He beamed when I graduated from high school, and again when I graduated from college—despite it taking almost twenty years because I was a single mom working full time and going to school at night. Those smiles were gifts of love. He cried with me each of the three times I had a miscarriage. Those tears were gifts of love. He had a beautiful voice and sang at home, in a quartet, and at church. He was a wonderful grandfather. He bought his first grandchild—my daughter, Sara—her first dress. He went to the store alone to choose it (not typical in the 1970s). When Erin was born four years later, he fell in love with her too. Those were all gifts of love. He made perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, had a dry sense of humor with impeccable timing. He was patient, kind, and always put the people he loved first. Those, too, were all gifts of love.
When he was dying, I often sat and talked with him. He was only 67 years old and had cancer. We talked about his life and about his time in The Navy. He spoke of meeting Mom and how much he loved her; 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 on the sofa. He talked about dying and heaven and life after this life.
More gifts shared between a father and the daughter who loved him so much. And, we talked a lot about his imminent death. What a gift to be able to have that conversation….for both of us.
Dad came home from the hospital a couple of days before his last Christmas. On December 29, we celebrated Sara’s 23rd birthday in Mom and Dad’s living room. He was very frail, physically, a skeleton of the man he had been, and he was in excruciating pain. When we carried her 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 first granddaughter, and said, “I saved all my last singing for you.”
My Dad was a gentleman.
My Dad was a 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.
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