What do I say now?
I live through words. Words make things real. Today has been a long time coming, unfortunately, and during that time I thought a lot about what I would say when it happened. And I had no words. How do you sum up a half-century of love and respect? How do you talk about a life that spanned nearly eight decades, the life of a good and kind man, a family man, a working man, a parent, a husband, a friend. What stories do you tell? How do you fill this hole in the world with words? What do I say now?
Then I realized that I’d already said what I wanted to say. And I said it when my dad could still appreciate it.
We had a party when my dad turned 70, and my mom suggested that my brother and I each write something nice for him. It was a private thing, really, something just between us. But there are times when it is good to share private things, and this is one of them. I think my dad would approve.
I am glad that we left nothing unsaid. I’m glad that he got to read it. I’m glad he knew how much he meant and how much he was loved.
But I will miss him more than words can say.
It is not easy being a dad.
When you are young, this is not readily apparent. You are you, and dads are dads, and that is just the way of the world.
But when you are older – a teenager, say – you begin to notice things a bit more. Not “beat you over the head” sort of things, but the kind of important things that often slip by, uncelebrated but fundamental. Things like how you actually enjoy spending time with your dad. How you don’t worry about bringing friends or girlfriends home because you know that they will enjoy spending time with your dad just as much as you do. How some of them even begin to regard your parents as part of their own family. How few of your friends can say the same thing back to you.
And when you are older still, in your twenties, you begin to find your own way as an adult and as a man, and it occurs to you that you learned a lot from your dad. How to treat people with respect and judge them by their actions. How to look at the world and understand how it works and your own place in it, even if that place is very different from the one your dad made for himself. How you know that no matter what you have a place to come home to, and how much easier that makes going off on your own. How much you miss being home.
And then you become a dad yourself, and all those lessons you learned come home to you. Play with your children. Love them, protect them, and give them the space they need to move on. Your family is what matters, and all else ranges from “desirable but optional” to “optional” to “I’ll get back to you on that.” And you think, I hope I can do as good a job with my children as my dad did with me.
As I get older and my girls get older, there are more and more moments where I find myself thinking, “I sound just like my dad,” or, “That’s just what Dad would do if he were here.”
I am absurdly pleased by those moments.
I love you, Dad.