Ten Years On

Me and Dad in the creek circa 1968

Dad loved to swim, especially in this creek. I’m the smaller one in this shot. A few years later, I’d learn to swim in pretty much the same spot.

My dad has been gone for 10 years. That seems like such a long time for something that feels like it just happened yesterday. I’ve been thinking for the last year or so that I should put some thoughts down around this milestone but when it finally got here I just didn’t feel it. Part of it might have been that I had to travel on the exact day, October 19th. Normally, I’d spend most of the day on my bike, thinking about him but this year I spent the day in airports and airplanes … still thinking about him. The truth is I think about him a lot. That may sound sad but it isn’t. It is uplifting actually. I’m thankful that I had a dad like him, thankful I had 37 years to know him and thankful for the time we had to say goodbye. I realize how fortunate I am to have had those things and that time. I’ve come to understand that my relationship with my dad didn’t stop the day he died. It took a while to see it that way but it’s true.

This will sound odd but I could not have imagined how deeply the untimely death of my father would affect me. Most people will agree before such an event that they expect it to be difficult and life changing but the profound shift in my being is still difficult to comprehend ten years on. My mother, my sister and I were with him until his last breath and those moments seemed unbearable as they unfolded. I relived it for months and for the first few years, the emotion tied to it was so strong I found it hard to keep my own emotions in check throughout the day as my mind continually returned to him. The first few dreams I had of him after his death remain the most vivid, emotionally gut-wrenching experiences I’ve ever had. As impactful as losing him in the first place, as if he was reaching out to try to tell me everything would be ok but in a torrent of energy I couldn’t possibly control. All I could do was weep uncontrollably. Awful, right? Well, for a while it was but then it wasn’t.

I’m not exactly sure when it began to change but sometime, a few years on, I realized that my thoughts about him weren’t really sad at all. Sure, I missed him but only physically. There was still conversation. There was still advice. There was even still laughter and happiness. I knew him my whole life so it isn’t like I don’t know exactly what he’d say in most any situation and, whether I’m making it up or not, in my head I hear him all the time. At some point, those thoughts became just me and my dad carrying on like we always had. I feel nods of approval, nudges sometimes when I need it and reassurance at times when maybe only he could know how I feel. It’s sort of like social media. I haven’t seen him in a decade but he comments on my posts, likes my pictures and I still share things with him but the app is in my head, written in memories. He was a positive person, perhaps the most optimistic person I’ve yet to meet. I’m sure he had moments when the world got to him but he always looked forward, always smiled, always believed better things were on the horizon. How could I go around the rest of my life all down about losing a guy like that? Of course it sucks that my dad died at 59 years old but it would suck more if I lost the message of his entire life and wallowed around in sadness and self-pity for the rest of mine. So, maybe that’s why I don’t. I think I can’t do that. I think I have to be thankful for having a great dad, a great friend and I have to be thankful by carrying on and being happy and trying my best to be a good father, husband and friend.

So why say all this? Maybe it’s my way to express the old “time heals all wounds” thing but it’s better than just wounds healing. It’s also that the scars that remain aren’t all bad either. Death is one event and I’m grateful that one event hasn’t completely obscured the 59 years of his life for me. Maybe I’m putting this out there to acknowledge that there are some things I need to do better to really live up to the attitude I described above. He’d be disappointed that I don’t see my mom and my sister more. He’d be upset that I have almost nothing to do with his brothers and sisters and that I hung on to some old animosity longer (at all) than I should have. Maybe I’m just not as far along the path as I’d like to be but I’m getting there and I hope this helps others do the same, especially others close to me like my kids, my wife and certainly my mother and my sister. I’m sure it’s been hardest for my mom. She knew him since they were little kids. There are certain reminders most powerful to me and my sister. We get to catch those glimpses of him in ourselves in the mirror and hear his inflection in our voices that put him right back in the room with us. But even those things are now almost exclusively joyful for me and hopefully, others can see that and feel that way too around their own losses. I wish my kids had more time with my dad but they had some time and they remember. We talk about him. I talk about him. Most of my friends know more about him than they probably care to know because I rarely pass up an opportunity to share a line, a quote or a piece of advice from my dad. It’s not always easy, sometimes I just want to hug my dad, but it’s not always hard either and that’s important to remember and worth sharing.

So yeah, I miss him but he’s still alive in me and in our family and he’ll continue to be a part of our lives. He wants us to be happy, joyful, optimistic and he wants us to live. This life, our lives didn’t stop the day his did and he certainly wouldn’t want us to waste a moment in sorrow. He would want us … he wants us to live, to love and to be happy. So for Ronnie, for Big R, for Giddy, for dad and for each other, let’s do that.

Deep Connections, Social Media and Death

I have a core group of people I’m particularly connected to. Some of them I’ve known since early childhood, some since my teenage years and some I met relatively recently but I share an unusual connection with all of them that was immediately clear upon meeting that allows us to maintain a close friendship without physically seeing each other regularly or often. In fact, I don’t even talk to some of these people for months and years at a time but once together, it’s as if we’ve never spent a day apart. It’s a dynamic that my wife picked up on soon after we met (partly because we share such a connection although I’m rarely away from her). She’d meet one of these people in my life for the first time and find it unbelievable that we’d not seen each other in years. I’ve never thought it unusual at all to have these sorts of relationships. It is simply the mark of true friendship and a bond that, once formed, is nearly impossible to break. I suppose those who believe in past lives would say we are old souls coming together yet again and it is that our souls are bound from connections formed over countless centuries and lifetimes. That would be cool but it’s more likely that people who are willing to be true friends are just drawn to others willing to do the same. No pretense, no nonsense, no guard. We need that honesty, both given and received, to feel right about the world. In a way, the reason that works is that we really know each other so our daily routine is influenced by each other as if we are there to experience things together because at some point we experienced a lot together. Lives once wound together that deeply stay wound together I guess. I think everyone has relationships like that with close family but not everyone is lucky enough to have it as much as my friends and I and I’m grateful for those bonds. I thrive on being there for them and thankful for the times they’ve been there for me and I hope my children have the same opportunities in their relationships.

I think more about all this lately due to the influence and constant presence of social media in our world. The goal of social media is to connect us and keep us connected and that seems revolutionary to those who have limited connections but it seems sort of silly if you really think about it. Social media is an amped up, digital version of what we used to do at the barber shop, corner grocery, school yard and work place. As handy and entertaining as it is, it’s not the same as having been there. On the other hand, social media has allowed me to catch up with folks who weren’t super friends but whom I really liked knowing when I knew them and that’s great. Please don’t take this wrong when I call them “lesser relationships” but everyone can’t be your brother from another mother. I really appreciate some of the lesser relationships that have formed or been refreshed through social media. Facebook has been a second chance to know some people and a way to stay in touch with people I’d lost touch with before Facebook was there. Just as sure I know that my true friends will always be friends and that has been a fact for as long as I’ve known them, I also know I have missed chances to gain new friends and to be a friend to others along the way. Social media has become a conduit and a crutch, both of which are helpful and make us better friends to most people than we were before.

You might be thinking that I somehow think myself special and that most people have old friends they’ve known forever. I simply think myself fortunate that I was taught what true friendship and love is and that I was shown that it is imperative to express and seek both. Most importantly, I was taught that important relationships come with great responsibility and a demand of respect and that is something seen less and less these days. I wish everyone had friendships like I have and maybe many do but it’s obvious to anyone who’ll honestly look that most people just don’t get it. I am lucky to have been raised by great parents. They weren’t perfect but they sure tried hard and I’d like to think the effort rubbed off on me.

My dad was a parent first but he was also a really good friend to me and to those he considered his friends. Nothing made him happier than when one of his friends asked for his help. I learned friendship from my dad and he was a great teacher and he remains a true friend of mine years after his death. You might think I should say that he “was a true friend” but the reality is that our relationship continues even though I haven’t seen my dad since 2004. He felt gone at first even though I was constantly reminded of him as I looked in the mirror or heard my own voice in a video or voicemail recording. Our mannerisms are quite similar and for some time after he died, that was tough to take. Slowly, those feelings began to shift as I realized that I still had conversations of sorts with him. Not looney, out loud conversations but more “what would dad do?” sort of thoughts. He is the reason I am the sort of person who has those deep connection relationships so it should have been obvious that I shared that with him too. Since he was always around I guess I never thought of it that way until a few years after he was gone. I know him well so I know what he’d say or do in most any situation therefore I can get his advice anytime I wish and, like it or not, I get his opinion all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever told him anything out loud since he died but I have talks with him and he knows what’s going on in my life. It’s like a combination of that deep friendship connection thing he taught me and a Facebook friend – I haven’t seen him in years but he “Likes” some of my wall posts and I write on his wall from time to time. He comments when it’s needed and some times when it isn’t necessary at all. I’m sure he likes all the photos. He takes better pictures than me but he never mentions that. I’m really glad I learned what he taught me and I’m glad I figured out how it applies to our continued connection. It’s made losing him a little easier to live with but an imitation afterlife Facebook is no substitute for hanging out with my dad and that is a constant reminder to make each day count. Even under the best conditions, life is short so don’t take it for granted. He knew that too. He used to always say “hug your babies” which meant let those you love know it. He wasn’t perfect but he sure got that part right.