“I know you’re not telling the truth, and I need you to know that I know you aren’t telling the truth, but I love you and I understand.” That was how our last conversation ended. I told my dad that he was lying when he said he was feeling better last year on Christmas Eve. There is a lot more to this story, but in the end he wanted me to take a planned trip with Cathy that he had made possible last year at Christmas time.
Cathy can attest to the fact that I knew something was wrong while we were on our trip to Austin, Texas. I did get a few texts from my father while we were there. During our layover in Denver I told him where we were, and he provided the address where I was conceived in that city (that story also always included far too much detail about getting away from his in-laws, considerable drinking, and an R rated movie called “John and Mary”…which couldn’t be true because that movie didn’t come out until 1969, but it made for a good story from a man who had kissed the Blarney Stone 3 times). After the greatest meal of my life, I texted him and he told me it sounded great. As we finished our trip I texted him several times and got no response. Again, Cathy can tell you that I knew. He was gone.
It is a year later and it still seems surreal. My dad was bigger than life. He always seemed a little invincible. This last year has been probably the most challenging in my life, in large part because I miss him and my mom. They were my biggest cheerleaders. They would have been excited to hear the minutia of my new job. After a particularly interesting meeting that no one in the world would care to hear about, my dad would have wanted to know how I navigated it. My mom would have thought I crushed it, because she thought everything I did was great. My dad would be telling me how fat I look these days (something no one else other than my Grandma Murtha ever did). My parents would have enjoyed the 2015 Cubs season and have been very excited about their prospects for 2016. Mostly my parents would have enjoyed watching their grandson continue to make all of us very proud. They would have enjoyed watching him during his college search. My father would wonder why I wasn’t pushing him more to my alma mater and would have wanted to know all about Luther College. He also would have been VERY proud of the great young man that I have helped to raise; through that he would have been proud of me.
I am a lucky man. I have a son that I couldn’t be more proud of. I have a beautiful wife who has chosen to spend her days with me. I have a brother who I love. I have friends who make me laugh. I know that I am blessed. Yet, this holiday season will be, quite simply, sad. My father didn’t really like the holidays. If he wanted to give a gift, he gave it; why wait until December? If he wanted something for himself, he got it; why wait until December? The tree, the big meals, the forced gathering of family; it all seemed unnecessary to him. For a loud guy, he liked quiet simple things. So, this Christmas season, I am going to enjoy the quiet simple things as best as I can. I am going to enjoy a couple of books on U.S. history, just as he did. I am going to enjoy talking to my son about the Cubs and the Cyclones, just as he did. I am going to enjoy Donald Trump’s use of the word “schlonging,” which I know my dad would have loved. Mostly, I am going to remember how lucky I am. How lucky I am to have had a Mom and Dad who loved me and supported me. How lucky I am to have a wife and son to share the season with.
At some point during this break I am going to find a quiet moment to have a glass of expensive scotch and cry a little. I’ll cry because I don’t get to hear him tell his stories about being the only white member of the board of directors in a bank in Chicago. I’ll cry a little because I can’t hear him talk about his mother in law any more (who drove him crazy, and yet he loved dearly). I will cry a little because he won’t ever be able to take my wife’s side in arguments any more. Mostly, I will cry a little because I know we would have had plenty of laughs to share in the coming years.
There are lots of sad songs about fathers and sons. I never really understood them until this year. In many ways, all of us are simply reflections of our fathers (for good and for bad). For a long time I tried to outrun the shadow of my father, but was never successful. In the end I embraced his shadow and that has made me a better man. So, here’s to you Dad; I love you, I miss you, and I understand.