A little past midnight on October 6, my father decided that he had charmed the world long enough with his cheerful blue eyes, goofy grin, and easy laughter. He was 71 years old.
He didn’t want a fuss made over his passing, so my dad requested direct cremation. I have honored his wishes, but he’s still going to get a fuss. Sorry, Dad, but you were just too wonderful to not tell the world about you…
I had this amazingly intelligent, beyond funny, and steadfastly loving dad, yet not that many people knew him. I suppose that’s the way it is most of the time. A select few individuals get to be an Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates and are recognized by the world. The rest of us come and go with relative obscurity, known and missed by perhaps a few friends and family. My dad certainly falls into the latter category, but he meant the world to me.
When I was a little girl, my dad had a Sunday afternoon ritual. He would buy a weekend edition of the Chicago Tribune, spread it across the living room floor, and spend hours reading it from cover to cover. Of course, I couldn’t just let him read it in peace. When I saw him lying on the floor, I would hop onto the back of his ankles and walk up and down the length of his body over and over again. Each time I would see if I could make it all the way up to his shoulders, which let me tell you, was quite the feat since he would prop himself up on his elbows to read. If I were successful, I would then jump triumphantly from his shoulders onto the papers below and mess them up. Maybe rip them. I can’t imagine that my Wallenda act was as much fun for my dad as it was for me, but he never said a word.
As a kid, I also loved to style my dad’s hair. When I would spy him relaxing on the couch, trying to catch an episode of Taxi or Hill Street Blues, I would immediately ask for his comb. Then I’d grab a cup of water and climb to the top of the couch. For the next hour or so, I would fashion his hair into wonderfully innovative hairdos. During at least one or two of those styling sessions, I would also knock over the cup of water that was precariously balanced on the couch cushions. My dad never yelled at me, though, and the following week, I would do it all over again.
But my favorite way to test my dad’s love for me was when I would make my kitchen creations. Bored, I would stand in front of the refrigerator and grab random ingredients – say relish, milk, mustard, and Kool-Aid – and mix them together into a frothy treat. I would then present it to my father. We would warily eye each other as he would first sniff it, grimace, and finally put it to his lips. I could only imagine how awful it must have tasted (I never tried my own creations), but without fail my dad would take a sip, exclaim a phony “yum!” and tell me that he was going to save the rest for later because it tasted so good. Grinning from ear to ear, I would walk away and never see that concoction ever again.
I could share with you so many more memories of my dad, but these are the recollections that capture exactly who he was… and I don’t mean a man with the patience of Job, though that is true. He just had this gentle, lighthearted nature that made it so easy to be happy around him, and he loved making people smile. I witnessed it all the time.
I can’t remember a single time at the grocery store where he didn’t strike up a conversation with the cashier. He knew by name all the tellers at his bank. And he would always take a few minutes to chat with the host or hostess at each restaurant we visited. Usually, he’d start with some small talk about the weather, then good-naturedly moan about the Cubs, and finally crack a silly joke at which he would laugh the hardest. But without fail, my dad would find a way to make the recipient of his goofy charm laugh.
Even when he got sick, my dad never stopped being his naturally happy self. While in the hospital, he received a stuffed teddy bear that played “I Feel Good” by James Brown when its belly was pressed. My dad would hide the bear under his bed sheets, and each time a nurse or doctor walked in and asked, “How are you feeling?” he’d squeeze it and wait for a reaction. He loved it. They loved it.
I miss him so much.
My dad and I had a great relationship, and I told him many times how much I loved him before he passed. I’m not sad because he didn’t know how I felt about him or because we weren’t close. But I’ll never see his grin again or hear his laugh. I won’t get to witness another moment of his silliness on full display. It’s those little things that make my heart ache… And no matter how much time you have with someone, it’s never enough. You can never have enough memories. You can never have too many moments.
But I am so proud and blessed that this man was my father. He taught me so much. Above all else, though, he was this amazing example of how to live in the moment, find joy in the little things, and always be kind to others. That is his legacy, not just to me, but to all those who knew him. And now, hopefully even to those who didn’t.
I love you, Dad.