A Message To My Dad - A Final Goodbye
I'm Laughing So Hard I Can't Stop Crying
Last year on July 5th, my dad, the biggest male role model in my life celebrated his 75th birthday. Ten days later, he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly; sending my world into a tailspin that to this very day is something I'm only able to deal with in small doses. I'd have thought that by now, ten months later, I'd be able to make it through one day without crying; but I can't. I carry on one-sided conversations, and ask questions out loud into the air; halfway expecting a response in return.
For the last week I've spent several hours a day, every day, at my parent's house where now, only my mom resides. While cleaning out the basement so we can have a yard sale, I've come across many highlights of my childhood. I've stared at old, brown paper lunch bags that he drew scenic pictures or cartoon characters on when I was in 5th grade, and I embraced stuffed animals he won for me at amusement parks. I gently unfolded handmade cards created from construction paper, doilies, and library paste with the words "I LOVE MY DADDY" printed crookedly; in faded, crayon letters across the outside cover. I gazed blankly at old photos, and wished more than anything that I had just one more chance to tell him I loved him. I've found myself running my fingers over items he once held, and wondered if he ever truly knew how much he meant to me and how much I idolized him.
Daddy's Little Girl
From the time I was born, I was the center of my dad's world. I was custom-ordered and designed, and he made no attempt to hide his love for me. I was "Daddy's Little Girl" if ever there was one. I was his side-kick. We went on bike rides, took walks, and he allowed me to help him pour the foundation for the garage he was building. We had an understanding between us. He would welcome me as his peer; and in return, I would behave as one of them. I was told early on that he wasn't going to come down to my level; so I had to come up to his if I wanted to continue to be his "equal". He's the only man I've ever encountered who would willingly invite his 8 yr old daughter to help him work on a car, stain a bench, or accompany him on weekly adventures to the city dump.
I rapidly became "Don's fishin' buddy"; I welcomed the title eagerly, and we were inseparable. That is, until puberty hit. I had just begun to discover boys, and they had discovered me. My dad on the other hand, discovered that his days of being the main man in my life were numbered. He didn't give up without a fight though. He continued attempting to be a part of my life inviting me along on his early morning fishing trips followed by a bite to eat after. I would eagerly agree, and then make him wait until I had my make-up on before setting out on our, by that time, not-so-early morning fishing trips. He'd get incredibly frustrated and grumble how the bass didn't care what I looked like; since I didn't have gills and scales, he could guarantee me that there would be no attraction on their behalf.
Gradually, the focus of my life was transferred from him onto members of the opposite sex. Once that happened, there was no looking back. He handled it graciously enough, or so I thought at the time. When my dates would come over for the first time, he would greet them with a firm handshake, make eye contact, and he'd whisk them off so they could "chat" while I finished getting ready. If I was already waiting for the guy to come over, I was sent out of the room to find something for my dad. Although I found it odd, I never questioned his motives. My dad stood well over 6 ft tall, and was built like a mountain with a booming voice that made windows rattle when he spoke. When he told you to do something, you just did it; you never questioned why you were doing it. I would ask the guys what all my dad had to say, and every one of them would get the same blank stare on their faces and refuse to answer. I later found out from one of the poor guys, who would later become my husband, that my dad explained that as long as he treated me respectfully, there would be no problem. If, however, I came back home upset or angry, then he would do to that guy what that guy had done to me. Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of return visitors.
Silence Is Golden
My dad was a man of very few words, if any at all. Usually a look would say more than he ever could verbally. With a single glance, you could tell what he was thinking, if he was mad, and if you should avoid him like the plague. What he lacked in conversation, however, he more than made up for in creativity.
Still Water Runs Deep
Through the years, he perfected the arts of leather crafting, model building, photography and painting, just to name a few. The most recent of his interests was painting Bob Ross influenced scenery and flowers. What started off as a small interest quickly grew into a major obsession. He collected instruction books on how to create floral designs; and spent hours taping episodes of "The Joy of Painting" onto old Beta tapes that he'd had since the mid 1970's.
He converted part of their basement, which was affectionately referred to as "The Dungeon", into a make-shift painting studio. That was his hideout, and his refuge. It was there where his true appreciation for the beauty around him was allowed to manifest itself in the form of his paintings.
Canvas after canvas, images of pansies, mums, daisies and carnations were all brought to life. Calling himself "Pappa Don", he painted some of the most awe-inspiring images ever created by the hands of a novice. Two weeks before he died, I asked him what his fascination was with painting. His answer was simple: "If ever you want to know what's in my heart, look at my paintings; my soul is in each and every one of them."
My Dad's Last Ride
It was my father's wish to be cremated when he died and my mother honored that wish. The funeral director suggested that we divide the ashes and put half of them in a memorial at a military cemetery so his service time in the Army would be honored, and we could take the remaining ashes and spread them wherever we saw fit. My dad had once mentioned that he'd love to spend eternity in Port Austin, MI along the shoreline. He loved the water, and the view along Lake Huron was breathtakingly gorgeous.
The day we were to spread the ashes started off the same as every other day; then we left the house and everything changed. As we began the journey, my mom, son, daughter, and I headed from the metro Detroit area on our 4 hr quest. We weren't on the road 5 minutes when my mom began talking to my dad as if he was in the passenger seat that I then occupied. "Okay, Donald" she stated "I want you to know that this is the hardest thing that I ever had to do. I'm doing my best here to honor your wish, but it's very hard on me. If you could give me a sign, I'd sure appreciate it." No sooner did she get the words out of her mouth then a song came on the radio that my dad, at the age of 75, would turn up full blast and yell along with the lyrics. My mom's jaw dropped. It was as if he hijacked the radio station and sent a very long-distance dedication specifically to her. We both kind of laughed it off after a few minutes and commented on the ironic timing. I said that it should help her feel comforted that it happened, and that he was along for the ride. She admitted that while the timing was perfect, and as much as she'd like to think that he was there with us, she was a little more reluctant to believe that it was anything other than coincidence.
We turned onto the main thoroughfare that would lead us straight to our destination, and we were chatting and sightseeing as we went. There wasn't much traffic heading out on the country road where we were going, and we were one of a handful of cars on the road at that time. Literally, out of nowhere, we were cut off by a speeding garbage truck of all things. After we regrouped our focus again, we noticed that this truck that had almost taken off the front end of the car, had writing on the back of it. In big, bold letters, it read "DON'S DISPOSAL". I was kind of staring off into the distance when I heard my mom say "Oh, you've gotta be kidding me!" I looked out the windshield, read the back of the truck, and start laughing hysterically. That would be my dad's humor, alright. Nowhere but nowhere would you find a garbage service truck called "Don's Disposal" that almost causes an accident with a car carrying Don's remains to be disposed of or scattered. Needless to say, the conversation for the remaining hours heading out to Port Austin consisted of "I still can't believe that truck, can you?" "I have never seen a truck like that before, have you?" "If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I'd swear someone was nuts!"
On The Wings Of a Dove
We steadily continued on to our destination. After making several trips up and down the main drag looking for the spot that my dad said he loved, we pulled over onto a lakeside rest area that was shady, isolated, and deserted. The four of us headed down to the water's edge; took in the serene beauty, and had a moment of silence. My mom handed me my father's ashes, silently turned away with tear-filled eyes, and began to walk away so she could have her emotional moment away from the view of her grandkids. I opened the container which held the remains and turned toward the water. I looked up to say one last prayer on behalf of my dad, and I saw a bird hovering above me. It wasn't flapping its wings; it was just hanging there in mid air. It didn't look like a seagull either. In all honesty, it looked like a dove. It wasn't there when we arrived, and it wasn't there when we had our moment of silence. It just sort of appeared out of nowhere.
The wind was softly blowing when I opened the container; but once I began spreading the ashes, the wind began gusting and the ashes became suspended in the breeze and began swirling in an upward motion. It was as if we could actually see him ascending into the heavens. The bird maintained its altitude; effortlessly gliding in the gusts, and watching while I continued with the ashes. Once the ashes had been emptied, the wind ceased blowing as if on cue. The dove, which had been watching intently through the whole saga, disappeared as suddenly, silently and mysteriously as it arrived. As we packed up the car and got ready to head back toward home, I looked back once again to where that bird had spent so much time hovering and watching over us. I said one last prayer for my dad, and thanked God for allowing me to be a part of such a magical experience
So, here's to you dad. Thank you for all the laughs, love and memories. Your legacy will live on through your photography and paintings. But most of all, your memory will live on through me; your baby girl. I promise I'll continue to try to make you proud of me. I love you.