Sunday, January 08, 2006
It was 40 years ago today...
"God needs another teacher in heaven".
Those were the words that preceeded the most life-changing news of my life, 40 years ago today.
My mother took me into the bedroom of my grandparents home, where I had spent the night, to tell me that my dad had died. I was 10. And shocked. It was as if a giant wave had engulfed me, and at that moment, I began swimming for dear life.
Those are words a child should never hear. Those are words a 35 year old mother of two, should never have to utter to her children.
But those were the words my young mother, who had married at the age of 19, had to figure out how to articulate to my brother and myself, so long ago.
At the age of 41, my dad had lost his 31/2 year battle with leukemia.
He was my hero. After all, I was only ten. To me he was perfect...he was handsome, athletic, a school teacher loved by everyone who crossed his path. He made me feel special and pretty and smart. It's not easy for a young girl to lose the man who makes you feel that way. The man who helps a little girl become a self-confident woman.
Now don't get me wrong, he was not without flaws. He could yell like there was no tomorrow (apparently a gene that I have inherited). But I always knew just what to do to break up the yelling and make him laugh.
As the years went by, I would learn that he was not perfect. He had insecurities and dreams that he would never attain.
But there were many things I learned from him in those 10 short years, that had already been integrated into the person I would become.
From him, I learned about loyalty. As a friend, a family man, and teacher...he was loyal to the end.
From him, I learned about humor. He had a sense of humor that touched many.
From him, I learned about men. He was around just long enough to teach me about what kind of man to marry.
From him, I learned about pride. He didn't want people to know about his illness, as to not be treated differently.
I look just like him. I secretly loved when family and friends would tell me that. It was my way of holding onto him . I could look in the mirror, and know he was looking back.
By nature, I was always a shy little girl, and I suppose that the death of my dad did not help. For years I would sit silently, watching other kids become popular and speak up in class. All the while, I felt like I had a giant secret. I was different from everyone.
(this was a time when divorce was basically non-existent, so there were no other kids from single parent homes).
I often wonder how different I'd be had he lived. No way to know. None of us know how one event can change the course of a life. We can only imagine.
There were so many things to mourn along the way. When you experience the death of a parent as a child, you must remourn at each stage of life you go through. You must mourn for the particular loss and grief you feel at the time.
First date, first kiss, high school and college graduation, the birth of his grandchildren... all without my dad.
I did not have my dad to walk me down the aisle. As I was overcome by tears of joy, my mom and my big brother literally held me up, as I approached the man becoming my husband. The man who would reflect all the goodness that I had missed in my dad.
I am grateful to my mother and brother. My mother did all she could to raise us with love and dignity. She stood close, while my life unfolded. My brother took the role of protector and nurturer, and to this day he is my close friend. He is the one person who shares with me the grief of losing our dad. It's an ache that will forever be a part of our hearts.
I think the biggest regret a child has when a parent dies, is not knowing them as an adult. Would he be proud of me? Would we like eachother? Having served in the Navy during WWII, would he support the war in Iraq? I'll never know.
When I began blogging last month, I had no idea that 4 out my first 17 posts would include my dad. My hands begin typing, and out come the words. I suppose this day has been on my mind. After all, it is quite astounding to realize a person has been gone nearly as long as he was alive.
I suspect I will not feel compelled to write about him for awhile after the passing of this day.
But I write this, not because I am bitter or angry for my life. I am only one in millions who have had a parent die. I am not special that way.
I write this because my dad deserves to not be forgotten. He would be 81 years old had he lived. In my mind he will always be that handsome 41 year old with a smile to melt your heart.
A few years ago, I was mailing a package to my brother. When the postal worker saw the last name, she quickly and proudly exclaimed, "I once knew a person with that last name (also revealing his first name)...he was my 5th grade teacher...he was the best teacher I ever had. He was so handsome, and I will never forget him." When I had finally picked my jaw up off the counter, I explained..."that teacher was my dad!". She and I began to cry.
I was so proud to know that my father's life had truly touched this woman. She would forever remember her 5th grade teacher who had meant something to her 35 years prior. He would not go unforgotten.
Afterall, isn't that what each of us really want in the end? To know that we had somehow touched a life or two.
My dad did that.
I will not go to his grave today. He is not there.
But, I will look in the mirror, and see him looking back...hopefully he would be proud... and he would know, that his daughter has never forgotten him.