Tonight is the eve of my dad’s birthday. I used to stay up till midnight to wish him a happy birthday. Tonight I decided to just be alone and think about him. Last year, his birthday hit me like a brick. It was the hardest emotional day for me following his death. It made things real and I have a feeling tomorrow will be no different. So, to make things a little bit easier, I figured I would write a little something about who he was. In his honor, I turned on some hymns, closed my eyes, and thought about what I could share.
For those of you who knew my dad, you knew him as a friend, a pastor, a preacher, a reverend, a doctor. You knew him as the man who always said “good morning” no matter what time of the day or night it was. To him, it was always morning, always a new day, always good. He had three bouts of cancer and he still said “good morning.” You knew him as that guy with the bushy beard, flannel shirts, fun ties, huge smile, and corny jokes. He was the guy who did your wedding or comforted you when someone you love died. You knew him as the guy who always came to the hospital to visit you, even when he was sick himself. You knew him as a good tipper because, as he said to me one day at a restaurant, “I probably make more than our server and I am on medical leave. She works hard every day and she needs that money more than I do.” You knew him as the man who was always reading more than one book and always wanted to know what you were reading. You knew him as the guy with the fig trees. You knew him as the man who, even after 43 years, was still head over heels in love with my mother. He was quick to laugh and smile and slow to anger. He did not hold grudges, he forgave, he loved, and he encouraged all of us to do the same.
I knew him as dad. I knew him as the guy who rarely went a day without calling me or texting me to see how I was doing. He remembered my friends and he remembered their stories. He listened. He was excited about everything I did. He was excited about what I was about to do. He never hesitated to tell me how proud he was of all of his children. He said we were all so different, but he loved us all the same and was so grateful that he could consider us his friends. Even when I worked in a bar, he was proud of me and saw past the work I was doing to see how I connected with people there. He was my weather channel. He warned me about bad weather and reminded me how to drive safely. He gave me updates when the Susquehanna was slowly creeping up its banks and getting dangerously close to my house. He showed me how to pump my gas, how to change my headlights, put air in my tires, fill my fluids, and replace my windshield wipers. He taught me how to find a stud and hang a picture. He taught me how to do my taxes. He went with me every time I bought a car and he taught me what questions to ask and how to choose the most reliable and sensible car. I think he saw early on that my independent and stubborn nature would probably keep me single for a long time, so he taught me things to help me survive.
He took me to the Indian buffet, the Chinese Restaurant, and the Mexican restaurant and I watched him sweat through every meal. When the food came, he always looked at me and said, “You pray, I’ll pay.” Perhaps he knew I needed to pray more often. Perhaps he just wanted to take his almost always single daughter on a date. Whatever it was, he made me feel important. He taught me not to give up on people. He said, “People will let you down. They will disappoint you. Sometimes you will give them a chance even though you know they are going to let you down. Still, you need to give them that chance, because everyone needs someone who believes in them and sometimes that is all it takes for them to surprise you.” I wonder now how many times I was that person for him.
The last year has been a hard one. I miss his calls and texts. I miss his smile and his laughter. I miss the way my dog’s ears perk up when I say “grandpa.” I miss the weather updates and reminders to put my wiper blades up before it snows. I miss our dinners out and the way his voice sounded when he said, “wonderful!” I miss him every time I see my daughter kick through my skin because I want to call him and tell him how amazing I think life is and how this little thing inside me is such a miracle. Although he would not have been thrilled to learn that I had sex before marriage and that the father of my child was nowhere to be found, I like to think that the idea of another grandchild would have made him absolutely elated no matter what the circumstance. I like to think that he would have bragged about her arrival.
Though I miss him, I still see him and sense him around me. Today I saw snow on the blooming daffodils outside my house and it made me think of him. I saw them and thought about how dad would see that and say, “Excellent!” Then, he would call me and tell me to stay off the roads and put my windshield wipers up. Just as he did when he was alive, these thoughts of him made me smile.
So, now that it is officially midnight and officially my dad’s 65th birthday, I simply send out into the universe a smiling “Good Morning!” and a sounding “Happy Birthday Dad! I love you!”