“What do you call the man who came into your life and gave your mom her happily-ever-after? For a little while, I addressed him by his first name. But soon, he became Dad.”
These were the words that I spoke at his memorial. They wrenched at my heart, and reduced my mom to quiet sobs. The man, my Dad, had passed away suddenly, yet without pain, leaving us in the wake of shock, grief, and uncertainty. He had been the touchstone between two families which included a collective of 8 children (his & hers) innumerable grandchildren–actually it’s like 14, but who can keep track?–and now, two great grandchildren. He was the quiet, unassuming linchpin that connected us all, and he would have scoffed at the fuss we were all making over his being gone.
Due to the life timing of his and mom’s marriage, the age of the older offspring, and other custodial arrangements, we kids didn’t all grow up together. We were NOT the Brady Bunch, nor did we want to be…I would never have been able to pull of the cuteness of Cindy, and my sister was way prettier than Marcia. (all due respect to Maureen McCormick)
Dad & Mom married when I was 11. They had dated for a few years before, so I (and he) knew what we were getting in the deal. Unfortunately, at 11–what is now called a tween–I had little time to listen to much of the wisdom he imparted. Shaun Cassidy posters, and the covers of Tiger Beat magazine had my rapt attention.
When the opportunities arose, he grabbed them with earnest diplomacy. His style with me was very cerebral, and he did his best to avoid triggering teenage hormonal emotional drama. He made sense, and in doing so, showed me the usefulness of logic. (Not that I always used it…) He was in MENSA, but he didn’t boast about it.
Never did he hear, “You’re not my real dad” from me. I never said it, because I never felt that way about him. He was a real dad, I didn’t need to have his DNA to know or feel it. He was firm when I needed it, and he allowed me to learn from the consequences of my actions–or sometimes inaction. Again, the logic thing.
(Yes, mom. This is where the laundromat story goes)
A man of integrity, Dad had a clear and undeniable sense of right and wrong, and raised us within that sensibility. We were taught to be humble winners. It was great to get a trophy for an actual achievement or winning a competition; but you had to earn it. He did not believe in giving prizes for “doing your best.” Doing one’s best was expected. You were always supposed to do the best you could–and if your best was better, it was okay to be rewarded, but you weren’t allowed to act smug when you were.
Simply participating didn’t entitle anyone to anything more. Unless it was a consolation ice cream afterward. He wanted us to challenge ourselves, and he taught us that lessons could happen within loss, so really, the loss would better prepare us for the next challenge.
He was also undiagnosed OCD. He never sought diagnosis or treatment, because to him, it was not life impairing; it was live improving. It was a complementary personality trait to the less-than-organized life of my mom. He was the Yang to her Yin. For the better part of four decades it worked. From the time she drove the car through the garage wall, to the trip to the ER during a Hawaiian vacation because she put her hand in a Clydesdale’s mouth, he accepted that he would never always understand why she did some things; but he loved her and cared for her unconditionally. He was her sunshine, she was his moonbeam. They were each to the other, “Hunney Bunny.”
Then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone. As we gathered, remembered, told stories and laughed, we understood that although his physical presence was no longer there, the lessons of life and love–along with his spirit and energy–would remain with each of us. Always.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.