Thursday, November 5, 2015

50 Things About My Father

Earlier this year, in May I think, I wrote a post about my Mom. I have made no secret of the fact that she and I had a complicated relationship, or that the circumstances of the last years of her life were not good ones. For her or for me, or for us together. I was struggling with her absence, as I often do, when I came across a post written by someone else about their mother. I challenged myself to do the same - to come up with a list of 50 things that were interesting, positive, genuinely good memories about her. I thought it would be difficult in all honesty given how badly things ended for us.

It wasn't. By the time I got to the end of the list, I could have written four or five more easily.

I promised myself then that when November arrived, I would do the same for my father.

Then November, as it always does, arrived.

I miss him more this month. I think I always will. It's the month of his birthday and Thanksgiving, two days that dance with one another most years, intersect occasionally, always reminding me of the man I called Dad. I'd like to tell you a little bit about him. I think you'd have liked him.


1. His childhood was spent between California and Florida, his father worked for Rockwell International at the height of the space race. Astronauts came to their house for dinner. He saw rockets take off from the beach. It was something that captivated the entire world for years, just a part of life for him.

2. When I was a little girl, he worked pretty hard to teach us about the space program. We even went to see a Shuttle land at Edwards Air Force Base once.

3. Even as an adult, he'd call me to talk about the launches. When the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003, I called him immediately, thinking for sure that he watched it live. He hadn't. He was out doing pick ups for work when it happened. We just sat in silence on the phone together.

4. The last gift he gave my son before he died was a LEGO space shuttle. It was built immediately and still sits on top of his bookcase today.

5. He spent his entire adult life pretending to be allergic to strawberries. He hated them, but people always tried to get him to eat them anyway. He started telling people he was allergic because he knew that no one would try to sneak them into food if he did. I grew up believing he was always allergic. He confessed a few days before he died, after apologizing. Then he made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone until after he was gone. I kept my promise.

6. He ran track in high school and managed to hang on to records for decades. When I was in high school, a friend attended the same school he did, and his name was still on the wall. He ran hurdles and steeplechase.

7. He really wanted to be a dentist. Applied to and was accepted at my alma mater. He didn't go because he couldn't afford it. He went to tech school and became a dental technician instead, opened his own lab.

8. The day I received my acceptance letter from college, he was waiting at the door with a huge smile and a bottle of champagne. I think he was more excited than I was. Actually, I know he was.

9. He was bowling a perfect game the night my Mom went into labor with me. She wouldn't tell him because she didn't want to jinx his game. He blew it in the 10th frame anyway. By then, everyone in the alley knew except him.

10. He loved to drive. I was with him the last time he drove, and having him hand me the keys as soon as he got out of the car that last time was heartbreaking. I had to drive him from then on. He knew.

11.  He was an amazing dancer. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

12. When we decided to move to Colorado, he supported me, never questioning why we were doing it. When he'd come out to visit, he was always standing on the porch, going for walks around the neighborhood, staring at the mountains. "I know why you moved here", he said to me once, as we stood watching the sunset. "You did the right thing."  What I wouldn't give to have him tell me that today.

13. When I made my First Communion as a little girl, he decorated the entire backyard with white streamers. It was so beautiful and still the thing I remember the most about that day.

14. He drove me to school every day in high school. He was constantly asking me to make good choices. I do the same thing with my kids.

15. He was my biggest, if one of my most silent, cheerleaders. He knew that life hadn't gone the way I thought it should, knew that I started writing because I had to, knew that I struggled with accepting things the way they were. I didn't know he read my writing until one day when he showed up on my list of followers. He read everything I wrote. When I finally outed myself for having post partum depression, he called almost immediately. Told me that he loved me, that he wished he had known. He was the first person who ever referred to me as a writer at a time when just about everyone mocked me for blogging. He bragged to people about his daughter, the writer, when he didn't realize that I could hear him. I've considered myself a writer ever since.

16. My husband and I got married the year of the last big El Nino. The reception was outside. Dad had tents reserved with several different companies just in case we needed them. We didn't.

17. When I got married and he was walking me down the aisle, he whispered into my ear, "You can still turn around and run." I laughed and told him I was good. He said he knew.

18. He inadvertently chose my husband. When I was a boy-crazy teenager, he detested the guy I was dating. He came home from work one day and told me he'd seen a "nice boy" at one of the offices, and why couldn't I date a nice boy like that. A few hours later, that boy he'd seen earlier rang the doorbell. He was basically in shock.

19. He loved tacos, in all forms. He could eat 6-8 of them at a time. It was an art form, watching him inhale them. He even liked terrible tacos from fast food restaurants.

20. He always helped coach or sponsor our teams when my brother and I played sports. I aged him a few years when I was working on learning the fastpitch windmill, but he still helped. He never told me he was too tired to play catch. Not once.


21. He made custom mouthguards for my friends who played sports at the high school level. For free.

22. He was a member of several community organizations over the years, from the Y's Men, to Rotary to Moose Lodge. I think he always longed to belong to something bigger than himself, even though he was truly an introvert at heart.

23. When I was a little girl, he worked a Christmas tree lot for Y's Men. He'd take me along with him. He loved, loved, loved doing it. I loved watching him share so much joy with others.

24. He was in a car accident after high school and injured his back severely. The recovery was difficult and never really complete. He spent the time he was healing constructing a bar for my grandparents, inlaid with old coins. It was beautiful...and too big and heavy for us to move out of there. I hope the people who bought the house still have it.

25. He loved to throw things away, to donate old stuff, to clear clutter. I come by it honestly.

26. He was meticulous about his appearance, never had a hair out of place. He always said that you couldn't decide what other people thought about you, but you could make sure you showed the world the good stuff.

27. One of his favorite father-ly phrases to repeat at us was "when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me".

28. On that note, he "wasn't a mindreader". He probably told me that 2,843 times.

29. Oh, and "do it right, or you'll do it twice". Sometimes I guess I really do sound like him these days...

30. When I was a disrespectful teenager, he and I argued almost constantly. One day when he was particularly frustrated with me, I slammed my door. He dared me to do it again. I did. He came, calmly, up the stairs with a hammer and flat head screwdriver, took the door off the hinges. I protested, saying it was my room. He just said that it was my room, and that was fine....but it was his door. He kept it long enough to make the point.

31. He never did manage to buy my mother a purse she liked, but god bless him...he kept trying.

32. For that matter, he always got her flowers and jewelry. He was good at the gift giving stuff.

33. When I turned 15, he gave me my first real piece of jewelry. He asked me what I wanted, got exactly what I asked for. A silver ring with a blue topaz stone. I wear it every day still.

34. He met my mother in high school. They broke up when they graduated. Years later, my Mom ran into his mother in the grocery store one day. They both thought the other had married someone else. They hadn't. In fact, she'd just called off an engagement to someone else because she'd had a dream about him. He spent hours searching his room for her number. He found it. Obviously.

35. He loved his dogs more than us, I think. They didn't talk back, they didn't grow up and leave. When they were puppies, he'd put them inside his hoodies to keep them warm. It was pretty much the cutest thing ever.

36. He was always more worried about my Mom than he was about himself. That wouldn't change, even after he was diagnosed with cancer.

37. When he was diagnosed, he made a short bucket list. No traveling necessary, no grand requests. He wanted to live long enough to see my nephew born. He almost made it to his first birthday.

38. He wanted to make sure that we took his car when he died. He figured we'd need the space. We drove it home after the funeral. I couldn't bring myself to drive it, but refused to get rid of it. Just after my mother died, my brother and his family were in an accident on their way here for Christmas. Their truck was totaled. They took Dad's car home.

39. Four days before he died, he took me out to breakfast for my birthday, told me that I'd given him the gift that year by coming and staying and taking care of him.

40. The first house we bought was a tiny thing in horrible condition, but it was all we could afford. It needed a ton of work, had a wall covered with wood paneling, was missing kitchen cabinets and had just had an addition built with a bizarre entrance that looked like the door to the batcave. He never once criticized us, questioned what the hell we were thinking or told us we'd made a huge mistake. He smiled, asked for a tour and somehow found positive things to say.

41. He loved all motor sports, but NASCAR was his favorite. A little of the joy left the sport permanently when Dale Earnhardt died.

42. All he really needed in life was a remote control, a television, a glass of water and a recliner.

43. His eyes were the windows to his soul. They were gorgeous blue and revealed everything about him whether he wanted them to or not. He could never lie about how he was feeling, his eyes told the truth.

44. He had a distinct scent, a combination of hair spray and Stetson and aftershave. I've smelled that combination exactly once since he died, and it damn near brought me to my knees.

45. The last day I took him in to the lab, he spent his time writing notes for the people he worked with. He even cleaned out his car. He tidied up the place before he left. I'm not kidding.

46. When my oldest son was 4, we were talking about the jobs people in the family had. I was trying to explain what my Dad did, that he made teeth for people who lost theirs. My son immediately asked if he was the Tooth Fairy, and I immediately said yes. He's been the Tooth Fairy ever since.



47. The last tooth lost on his watch was tucked into his shirt pocket after he died. It belonged to his oldest granddaughter, the one he'd talk off the ledge every single time she had a loose tooth.

48. He wasn't big on dessert, but he'd eat the hell out of a hand packed pint of 31 flavors chocolate chip ice cream. He'd insist that hand packed was better, and there was no use arguing with him.

49. When I was little and started to doubt Santa, he climbed up on the roof with jingle bells and stomped around on Christmas Eve.

50. He loved music and there are so many songs that take me back to my childhood because of him. This is one of them. There are so many fond memories in these notes and words.



Miss you, Dad. I love you.

5 comments:

  1. Beautifully written! I would have liked him for sure. I remembered about the strawberries.

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  2. That was amazing, Kelly! I read the whole thing out loud so Jim could hear it. We laughed when when I read the part about your Dad taking off your bedroom day, we totally remember the day he told us he did that. Thank you so much for sharing��

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  3. Your Dad was a special man. He had room in his heart for my son, that truly meant the world to Nathan. I loved how your Mom introduced him to the priest, " and this is our Nathan". I like to think Mr C would be proud of the extra kids that hang around Nathan's house!

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  4. I had a biological father who I didn't know until I was 23 and a step father who raised us kids... My biological father was useless, and my step father was almost as useless. I ADORE your father and you are so blessed to have had him in your life.

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  5. Love this!
    You might not know, but my parents were bowling with them during number 9. 😊 (they were all always bowling!) LoL
    I remember when they brought you home... I was a very excited little girl!!

    ReplyDelete

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