Well, the saying is true ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone’.
So very true.
We didn’t start out close. You fulfilled your fatherly duties as best you could with the disadvantage of being the ‘every other weekend dad’ by the time I was 3. My earliest memories were of the many different places that you lived…ranging from hotel rooms to a trailer home in an orchard to a 3 bedroom house that was rented with a roommate whom I rarely saw. As much as you hated cities and interaction with a lot of people, you sacrificed by settling in Stockton to remain near me. I understand and appreciate what that took for you. Thank you.
In the beginning you were good about planning fun (inexpensive) activities for us to do during our visits. Miniature golf – which you took very seriously. I don’t think people actually keep score anymore! LOL But you were wonderfully patient with me. You took me to the little zoo and amusement park and let me go on any and all of the rides. My favorite was the roller coaster they had and I could never have the patience that you had by letting me go on that again and again and again….you would just kick back, smoke your cigarettes and smile when I passed by. You even taught me how to play poker. I believe I was no older than 6 by the time I learned how to properly shuffle a deck of cards and we would play for hours with your coffee can full of pennies to bet with. That was fun.
By the time I hit my tweens and teens, you obviously didn’t know what to do with me. We kinda skated thru those years, both of us struggling with trying to re-define our relationship that no longer worked as it did when I was 5. As most teens I was very selfish and self centered, my relationship with you was not a priority at that time. So we eventually stopped the scheduled visits and settled on calls and visits on special occasions.
One thing I could never deny was your support. No matter what I did, you were always there for me and supported whatever decision that I made. As a parent now, I can understand how disappointing it would be to have your 18 year old daughter, working at Burger King get pregnant before finishing any college and not able to support herself. But I never got any feelings of disapproval or disappointment from you. I know now that your main concern was my health and happiness. After I gave birth on December 31st 1997 (ending a very rough year for everyone in the family) you immediately formed a relationship with Jared and helped me get my first apartment. You were financially struggling (as you always were) but you had no hesitation in loaning me the money to get me on my feet. It was a good investment. Thank you.
On my wedding day, I was as cool as a cucumber. I had no hesitation or fears. Everyone kept asking me if I was nervous or if I needed a tissue. Nope. I was good. I was happy. I took your arm right before walking down the aisle towards my future, you turned and looked at me with tears in your eyes ‘You are so beautiful’. THAT was when I lost it! Thanks a lot – totally bawling! I am surprised my husband-to-be didn’t run past his best man out the side door away from his psycho, bawling bride. But he didn’t and you gained a son that day. A son that loved you with all of his heart.
Days went by, months went by, years went by….work/kids/responsibilities, etc. We continued our occasional visits and weekly phone calls. You were there, you would always be there. Until, spring 2006 I got a phone call from you. Voice shaking you asked me to sit down. “The cancer is back….tumor in neck….tests….pain……don’t worry Stephanie.” I know now that you were crying because it was killing you to upset me. Within 2 weeks you were living with me. Oh, I know it started out as a temporary stay to help you because your hands were so weak you couldn’t open doors or hold utensils, but it soon became permanent. We struggled those weeks. You, who craved alone time and quietness was now in the middle of a very lively chaotic household. I know how frustrated you got, but after a while, we were able to develop a system that worked for all of us.
Those summer and fall months were filled with doctor appointments after doctor appointments, neck surgery, radiation, research. I continued working while taking care of you, so I was pretty robotic in those months, all the while thinking we were working towards a solution of getting you better. We were able to grasp wonderful moments of connection. We started out as slightly closer than strangers then you became one of my best friends. You were the first person I thought of when something funny happened. Your opinion was always needed and valued when I was faced with a dilemma. You were an extension of who I was that year. Everything I did revolved around how it would affect you. Our roles had changed and as hard as that was for you, I know you bragged about me to people…calling me a Momma Bear. 🙂
You held on through the holidays and Jareds birthday before letting go on January 6th, 2007. I just wanted one more day with you. Just one more day. I kept saying that over and over thru the tears. Just one more day. Of course, that was very selfish of me because by that time, you were in non-stop pain relieved by only overdosing levels of pain meds. It was time, even tho I was not ready.
Dad, not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. There is always something funny that comes up or something in the paper that makes me want to share/vent/laugh with you. You understood me and after those intense months of connecting, I understand myself better. Thank you for being you. Thank you for everything. You have helped shape the woman I am today and I am proud of where I came from.
So, on this Fathers Day – I refuse to experience the sadness of not having you with me, but to celebrate the joy of the memories of who you were and who you continue to be in my heart. I love you. I love you so very much. Thank you.