01 Nov 2017 Dad.
Every summer for as long as I can remember our family went camping. Dad worked for Raytheon, and our vacations usually happened during their “summer shut-down” – two blissful weeks in the height of summer when we’d pack up the station wagon and hit the road for Gramma & Grampa’s house in northern Wisconsin where Dad was raised.
In the early years we’d road trip all day and camp in a tent at night, sleeping bags on the ground and a camp stove to cook on. Dad loved to tell the story of when I was an infant, in his sleeping bag at night – I was so tiny, and he was so worried that he would roll or shift that he didn’t sleep a wink. This would have been the late sixties, and somewhere late at night, in a sleeping bag on the ground in a tent in a campground, somewhere faraway, between Massachusetts and Wisconsin – my father lay awake making sure that I slept, making sure that I was warm and comfortable, making sure that I was above all: safe.
It’s how he spent his entire life.
I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t looking out for us. He carried me up mountains (literally) when I was small, let me hurl myself from the stairs into his arms when he got home from work, taught me to ride a bike, taught me to drive. Got me a toy truck so that I wouldn’t just have to play with dolls. Got me my first credit card, and taught me to pay off my bills each month, and save. He always made sure my favorite foods were waiting for me when I came home from college, and that I had some to take back with me to stock my dorm’s mini fridge. He always wanted to know if I was taking care of myself and if there was anything I needed. He was the soul of patience. If I got frustrated or moody or mad, he still stayed with me. And if ever I needed something – even if I didn’t know it, he was always right there with it.
He was absolutely transparent. There was no guile there at all – everything he was feeling or thinking was reflected with absolute clarity in his face. Like me, he sometimes got frustrated and moody and mad – and you knew it, and you knew why, and you knew it would pass. The storm clouds always cleared, and the love was always still there. I sometimes thought I’d broken that – that I’d said or done something irredeemable, that there was no going back. He always proved me wrong. It seemed unbelievable at times, but there it was. He loved us.
And boy-oh-boy could he laugh! Suppertime was often spent laughing to tears, over the silliest most wonderful and ridiculous things.
He taught us to be kind by being kind. He taught us to laugh. He taught us patience by being the soul of patience. He was fair and honest. He had a depth of integrity that I will only ever strive to match. He didn’t impose his will, but brought out the best in each of us by letting us be ourselves and encouraging us to be better. He led by example. He brought joy.
In recent months, I’ve watched him care for Mom – helping her eat, asking her questions and drawing her out. Holding her hand as she falls into sleep. When my brother Steve said, “I love you Dad,” Dad turned to him beaming love out of every part of his being. I have never seen anything like it. He could no longer speak, but I have never seen love more clearly, fully, and simply given. It was extraordinary.
He was extraordinary. I miss him with my entire being. It took many decades for me to get over myself and appreciate Dad for the extraordinary human that he was. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long.