A week or so before my dad passed away he told me about a meeting he had planned with an administrator at the community college where he was enrolled (he was a Gold Card member – free classes for retirees!). At his funeral, we joked that my dad was a man of many faces. He had a lot of great facial expressions, but he also had many different looks. Full beard with mustache, just mustache, goatee, mutton chops, that one with the strange name that I can’t think of… His beard was an ever-evolving expression of his Inner Self. Sometimes it looked great and sometimes I wondered if he had looked in the mirror lately. He mentioned that he was thinking about shaving his beard off before the meeting. I can’t remember what it looked like exactly, but what he was growing at the time was no ordinary beard. It was nothing like the beard you are picturing in your mind. Me, being the mom of three mostly clean-cut children and law abiding citizen that I have become, said something along the lines of, “oh yeah, it’s probably a good idea to shave your beard before you meet with the administrators.”
I can remember the look on his face. He wasn’t quite appalled, but the look definitely fell into the “Is it too late for a DNA test? I’m not sure you are my daughter” category. He was sitting at my kitchen table. He looked at me and said, “I don’t give a shit what they think. My beard is starting to bug me. Plus, I don’t think your mom likes it.” This is just one of the many things I admired about my dad. He didn’t care what people thought of him (except my mom). Not in a punk, ruffian, tough guy, I-don’t-care-what-you-think way either. My dad cared so little about what other people thought of him that he didn’t even need to make them aware that he didn’t care.
He was very handsome. He looked great when he dressed up, but he was most likely to be seen wearing a warm, sensible (partly flannel) shirt with well-worn jeans or corduroys, work boots, and a Carhartt jacket. Maybe a neat necklace with one or two pendants that meant something to him. In the summer he wore shorts and a t-shirt with something cool or funny printed on it. He often sported a hat of some sort. Or, especially if he was working or playing the guitar, he wore a bandana around his head.
My dad was really smart. He read a lot of books and had an incredibly broad world view. We cherish his notes, drawings, sculptures, woodcarvings, and all the other artifacts that suggest this was a man who never stopped learning and who wasn’t afraid to try something new. He was an activist in his Union. He was a lot of different things, truly, but one of the other things I loved best about him was that he was a non-conformist. He wasn’t obnoxious about it. He did his own thing and quietly observed others doing their own thing. He was mellow, grounded, and a peaceful, nature-loving man. As I said before, my dad didn’t really care if someone didn’t like his beard or his outfit or his view point. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if he knew you didn’t like something about him, he relished in that part of himself even more. He didn’t rub your face in it; very simply, he was not afraid to express himself and enjoyed that expression in whatever form it took.
This is a gift for a little girl. I guess I should say, for this little girl. I was enchanted by my gentle, tender-hearted, free-spirited, non-conforming dad. To be his daughter was very special for me. He was sensitive before it was cool for dads to be sensitive. My dad was on the cutting edge.
There were times in my life where I didn’t appreciate just how cool he was. I rolled my eyes and wished I could buy my dad a box of golf balls for Christmas. He needed picks for his guitar. I longed to choose a tie from the Men’s Department at Hudson’s for him for Father’s Day. My dad wore work shirts. None of the Hallmark cards seemed to fit his personality. He didn’t fish. He didn’t watch football.
There were also many times when I was quite proud to be his daughter. As I got older, and less self-conscious, I loved seeing him perform. Or, even better, I loved it when my friends went to hear him play with me. We would dance the night away to the music of…my dad and his band! I cherish the times when I embraced every little quirky and unconventional thing about him. Like when I was finishing grad school and he would arrive with his guitar to care for my then 18 month-old son while I was away. It’s not every child whose babysitter shows up in Carhartts with a guitar. There were also times when I didn’t think much about any of it because he was my dad and I loved him for that and that alone.
Yesterday I had a little bit of a breakdown. We are quickly approaching the one year anniversary of my dad’s death. March 11, 2011. Part of me is relieved that we are so close to this milestone because everybody told me the first year would be the worst. If we made it this far, through the worst year, we have certainly proven that we can keep going. Without my dad. Part of me is scared to lose what feels like a free ticket to grieve. I had one year. It’s almost over. I keep telling myself that I can take as long as I want. Someone who I have always admired as a smart, kind, level-headed woman (I met her when I was about nine years-old) told me that it took her eight years to feel “normal” again after her dad died. If she took eight years, then I could too, if that was what I needed.
I want to rejoice in my new journey…this quest to become whole again. It’s exciting to be learning, growing, and changing in ways that I think are very positive for me, and for the people I love. I like to think I would have eventually taken this path anyway, once my kids were in school or whenever the time was right, but losing my dad catapulted me into a time of change, a time where new interests have begun to emerge. As I have been sorting through all the pieces that made me, that make me, and that will carry me forward, I have been fascinated, even exhilarated. This is a gift that my dad has given me.
My smart-brain is grateful for this gift and knows that my dad was a gift too. In spite of these great gifts; however, there is a part of me who just wants her Daddy back. I thought she was okay. I thought I was past that. But yesterday she showed up and said she needed some attention. This part of me feels tired. She is tired of trying to put a positive spin on everything. I think she may be experiencing some growing pains from all this growth. She might need some rest. Her body is sore from trying new yoga poses, her mind is spinning from reading too many books and wondering what to write in her next blog post, and her heart aches too. I think this part of me feels like this growth opportunity is unwelcome. She was very comfortable in her life before. She thinks back, and remembers that everything was fine a year ago. She is still very sad when she thinks about going on with her life without her dad in it, even though she knows that she can.
I could tell her that her dad is in a better place. I could tell her that he is just a thought away. I could tell her that he lives on inside her and all around her. I could tell her any number of things, but I think she would just tell me to, well, $#%& off.
So, I will just sit here with her. I will hold her. I will celebrate, with her, the first man she ever loved. We will remember the sensitive, unconventional, guitar playing, bandana wearing, beautiful bearded man who was her dad. We will hold him in our hearts. We will sit here together for as long as it takes.