So this is a description I ran across while looking for sheets on Etsy the other day. It cracked me up. I thought it sounded better than titling a post Ten Years Ago Today My Dad Died. Would anyone read that? And does it matter? I’ve written this in my head all day, but now I’m sitting down to actually write I’m not really sure what to say. And I’m here at work in the library and it’s final exam time and the students are so anxious and keep needing me. My thoughts are interrupted. The late shift tends to be more counseling and encouragement than anything. And teaching 20 year olds how to use a copier.
So I’m almost certain no one has, or ever will, love me as my dad did. (And mom, I know you are going to read this. I’ll write a post one day about how much you had to put up with raising me and how you still haven’t given up hope I’ll turn out respectably and how much I know you love me. I’ll also write about how you once gave me the very practically southern advice to not come downstairs in the morning before putting on lipstick, but that’s for another time. You must admit, dad had saintly patience and always tried to figure out where I was coming from, even when my purple hair and freshman 30 rendered him speechless.)
So 10 years ago I was at my little cabin on the side of the mountain where I lived by myself while in graduate school. And my sister called and my world changed. Simple as that. I had, minutes before, sent my dad an email telling him to get up to Boone, NC so we could do some fly fishing. I missed him and it had been too long and my semester was winding down. Boom. I remember every detail and it was 10 years ago. One minute he was of this world and then the next, he wasn’t. My Aunt came to get me and drive me home.
It’s hard to describe my dad because he was extraordinary. During the whole mourning process I can’t recall the number of people who told me stories of his kindness or how he inspired them to live differently or how he helped them change their lives. He kept our family business running successfully for many years and then spent the latter part of his career working at a community college helping people start businesses of their own. He brought in speakers. He helped people know themselves better. I took a lot of personality tests administered by my dad attempting to help me figure out what to do with my life (any other INFP’s out there? Holla!)
My dad was also hilarious. He wasn’t the “hey look at me and listen to my funny joke” kind of hilarious. He was who you wanted sitting next to you at a really boring function or dinner party. With a few glasses of wine in him, he was one of the wittiest people I’ve known. You know what else? He used to make wine, which is a great segway into my next section which is about my dad and his hobbies.
“Hobbies” is sort of a cheesy word. My dad was more renaissance man than hobbyist. If something interested him, he learned about it and made it happen. Did I mention he was one of the smartest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing? Anyway, yes, he made wine (I heard it was muscadine and it was awful). He was interested in Japanese and Chinese culture, so he collected swords and read all he could. He taught himself how to prune and cultivate bonsai trees and eventually taught classes at the community college. We were the only kids in the neighborhood who had bamboo planted in their backyard and who could authentically clean antique Japanese swords. Umm, did I mention we lived in a small town in Eastern North Carolina? Anyway, he modeled and built our river house after a Japanese Tea house. He painted beautiful scenes on the walls and we had a big paper lantern long before you could buy them everywhere. He also built wooden boats. A beautiful cedar canoe and a sailboat. I remember vividly being in the middle of the river as the boat took on water, my sister and I bailing and panicking. “All part of the experience girls,” is what I remember him calmly saying. I’ll also mention that he made pottery and helped with firing the kilns at the college. As he grew older, other interests took a back seat to fly fishing. He taught my sister and I how to cast a fly rod in our backyard. I’m sure at the time, I would have rather been playing Nintendo or something. But he was adamant we learn and being on the river connects me to him to this day. He also taught himself how to make amazing bamboo fly rods from reading books and eventually sold a few. The ones left unfinished are some of my favorite possessions.
I found a letter recently my dad had written to me when I was 24 or so. He was concerned that I was having a hard time figuring out what direction my life should take. I was sort of floating. In my eyes, I was seeing the world. In his eyes, I was directionless and wasting my talents. He suggested I write. He felt I was good at it and it would be fulfilling to me. 14 years later here I am. Even when he didn’t understand my choices, my dad always tried to listen with an open heart and mind. He may have wondered to my mother or to himself, “What in the hell is she doing (or not doing)?” but he always made me feel supported, even when he couldn’t understand the choices I was making.(Except that one time he found out I had gotten a tattoo. I was 18 and it was a terrible tattoo of a koi fish. And by terrible, I mean it looked like someone had broken open a bic pen and poked away on my shoulder blade while we were on shore leave. He never really got over that.)
I was 29 when my dad died. The weekend before was Easter. I was home from graduate school and he and I walked to the waterfront park near our house for a non-denominational sunrise service. On the way home we talked religion. My dad and I could talk religion for hours. He had studied many belief systems (he was the guy who invited the Mormon missionaries in just to hear what they had to say, much to the chagrin of my mom). He had once told me, while I was having yet another existential crisis, that most religions have some version of the Golden Rule. Just keep that in mind and I should be fine. He also told me he was worried that the life I was leading and that the men I dated (mostly outdoor enthusiasts, always unemployed) weren’t going to bring me happiness, because he could tell I was struggling. And why was I so scared of being successful? Or responsible? Or really loved? And that the greatest joy he had known in his life was marrying my mom and having my sister and I. And this wasn’t a line. It was his truth.
And yes, my dad faults. But not as many as most people.
Oddly enough, the week after he died I began an email correspondence with the person who I would eventually marry. My husband is an avid fly fisherman, which I don’t see as a coincidence. I have two amazing, bright kiddos who my dad would have been devoted to. I can see hints of who my dad was in my children and it makes me smile. And then cry. And then laugh…missing someone this much sometimes leads to mania.
Writing this hasn’t exactly gone where I anticipated. I guess I thought it would be funnier? I want to change parts, make it flow better, but I am tired and I’m just going to hit publish. I think I’ll continue to edit this story the rest of my life…
This is a photo of my parents taken before I was born. It’s one of my favorites. I mean, could my mom and dad look any lovelier?