I'm at the condo, searching through My Documents to find writing samples to bring to tomorrow's (second) interview(!). I came across the paper I wrote about my dad.. I revised the whole thing last year and redistributed it, so about everyone I know has seen it, but I'm posting it here to make sure it's never lost. I agonized over every word when I wrote this, crying the whole time, and I cry every time I read it again: it's my dad and captures exactly how I feel about him. I really, really wish he were still here.
Our mother met us at the end of my father’s driveway when we arrived at his house. The cancer that invaded his body had bedrid him for months, so my sisters and I visited regularly to make him coffee, watch him nervously as he slept, and burn perfumed candles to camouflage the smell of that awful bag. So one of my sisters and I had come to sleep over. I noticed my other sister’s car parked nearby and wondered to myself why Mom was there. As we met her, the streetlight revealed that her cheeks were streaked with tears. “He’s gone,” she said quietly, her words turning a regular ol’ evening into The Night My Father Died.
“What am I supposed to do now?” I asked myself.
The rest of the night was surreal. Within view of my father’s body, my family talked about his death over coffee while my niece crawled up and down the stairs and poked at the fish in their aquarium. I sat near where this little girl was playing to let her protect me; even if it was centered on bananas and Blue’s Clues, we were having the only normal conversation in the house.
My sister wept openly, crying out apologies and assurances (I can only assume) to my dad’s lifeless body. I felt this was a much more appropriate reaction than my own numb one. When she left the room, I realized I was alone with the thin old man that had so quickly taken my hearty father’s place. I stole a touch of his hand and tried to understand my mother’s words: he’s gone.
Unfortunately, after the shock of the death and the daze of the comedically miserable funeral (picture a girl trudging up a hill in the snow to a small church in the country, sobbing and pointing to the spot where her car had skidded off the road), I was reminded of those words and how much they meant more often than I would’ve liked.
My parents divorced when I was young, and I lived with my mother and two older sisters, first in a nearly windowless apartment with pink shag carpet and a bathroom I was convinced was haunted ever since we had to open its door with a “skeleton” key. Dad lived a few miles out of town and, on the weekends, I would stay with him. At first, I didn't like my weekends at Dad’s house; there wasn’t much for me to do there if I didn’t bring a friend along and the house itself was run-down, cold, and (gasp) didn’t have cable. As I got older, though, I looked forward to the bad late-night TV and good late-night talks about our lives, Paul Harvey, and the wild kittens living in the garage. Then he’d bury me in heavy blankets on the couch (oh, what I wouldn’t give to relive one of those tuck-ins) and let me sleep as late as I wanted. Stays at his house became happy retreats where it didn’t matter that I wasn’t pretty or cool and when everything I said was important.
My dad was always there for me, as tired as the saying may be. When I was getting excited about Spanish in high school, Dad got excited with me. When I decided to stop eating meat, Dad made me egg sandwiches. When everyone else wanted to break the CD I bought at a concert and played nonstop since, Dad just asked me to play track 17 again.
Besides being a good father, Dad was a good person. One of the characteristics I admire most in people in a kindness to animals (it being completely unnecessary and unselfish) and my dad demonstrated it often. He once told me about a dog he had come across while working outside, and with a smile in his eyes said that she’d eat half of his lunch in a gulp and look up at him, demanding more. Corky was the sweetest little dog, he said, but her owners didn’t seem to care for her much, so he took her in and paid $35 he couldn’t afford to have her spayed. Now, in her grey-muzzle years, she lives with my adoring mom and step-dad; it still makes me smile to think of how lucky she was to beg from Daddy. And while all my uncles’ cars were draped in limp deer carcasses every November, I never knew my father as a hunter. One day, he told me why: while hunting squirrels as a younger man, he chased one into a hole, shoved his gun in after it, knowing he had won, and prepared to shoot. But then it started to whimper and Dad couldn’t bring himself to kill the scared little animal. From then on, the only hunting my daddy did was for mushrooms.
Dad was the nicest guy I’ve known, and in every of my life’s ups and downs, I feel him being gone. I wish I had more of him than a little silver ring he gave my mom when they were in love, a pair of overalls in the closet, and the bit of him I hope to see in myself. When I go home, I wish I were going to his house instead of past it to his little plot in the cemetery. I wish I could share with him Hank Williams, III’s music, vanilla soymilk, and the dream I had last night about polar bears. Most of all, I wish I were writing this about how great my dad is, and not feeling the sting of using the past tense.