A Birthday and a Synopsis

Hey Dad,
Today should be your 58th birthday. But you stopped at 57. Realistically, I knew you wouldn’t live forever, but I never imagined that you wouldn’t live at least long enough to be old and feeble minded and enjoying the home we picked out for you. You know, we promised you we’d find you one where you could drink beer and it would have a pool table. But you gave out long before that point. My heart is still so broken in a way I never would have thought possible and there are moments when your absence in my life seems like it’s far more consuming of my attention than your presence was. I wish you were still here, so I could call you today and tell you stories about how overgrown with weeds my yards are, about the baseball game I went to last week and about how I correctly diagnosed the leak in our toilet. These were the kinds of things we shared and I know you would have been pleased to hear them. You probably would have complained about getting old, you’ve been doing it for the past couple of years. You would have regaled me with stories of the school that you were working at, complained about whatever motley crew of animals you were keeping and probably complained about the heat. I certainly inherited my intolerance of hot weather from you and not from Mom, who I swear must be part lizard.

It’s taken me six and a half months to think about sitting down to write you a eulogy Daddy. I think that there’s a big part of me that hasn’t and doesn’t want to accept your death. It was so sudden, so out of nowhere and about 12 hours before I planned to call you and see how you were. I miss your voice, the way the answering machine always picked up before you could make it to the phone, but most of all I miss all the stories I will never hear about you. All the things you will never be. But here, right now, I’m going to try and write a short synopsis of what I knew you to be.


It’s virtually impossible to sum up in a few short paragraphs all that my father was. He was 5’10”, bald and bearded and heavily muscled in a way that only comes from manual labor. He had an insatiable desire for knowledge, a ridiculous love of practical jokes and an amazingly tender heart towards children and animals. He loved beer, Hawaiian shirts, jigsaw puzzles and mystery novels. He lived very simply and was generous almost to a fault. He hated to throw anything away if there was any chance that it might be used again in any way. He was also one of the most important people in my life; one of the guideposts by which I defined myself. Without him, I am missing a rudder.

My father had large, square hands. They were always calloused from working in the fields because he frequently eschewed the many pairs of gloves he owned. A normal day in my childhood could find him operating a sawmill, chopping wood, making hay, milking goats or doing any one of a million other farm chores. Most people would have called him a man’s man, tough on the outside. What most people didn’t know was the inside his heart melted for his three little girls and it was not uncommon to see him with his beard or what little hair he had held back by plastic barrettes, braided into many tiny braids or otherwise decked out sparkly little girl accessories. He loved to tease and torment us; he would shake his wet beard over us after a shower or throw his stinky socks at us at the end of the day. One day when a friend was over, he was expounding on the joys of being an adult as he passed around that evening’s dessert–swiss cake rolls or some other Little Debbie snack cakes–and without warning he reached out and BANG! slammed his hand down on the friend’s cake, telling her he could do that because he was an adult, and that was what made being an adult great. He did also swap her mangled cake for his.

My father sang to us a great deal. While he did not sing outside the house and I can’t recall the way it sounded when he sang now, I know he sang a lot. The song I most remember him singing to me was You Are My Sunshine, which has always made me cry. He would wake us up on summer mornings by bellowing “Rise and shine and give God your glory glory”, his rich, round voice refusing to allow us to remain sleeping. He sang songs while we worked, teaching us to use them to work on the same rhythm. Frequently sung songs also included Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side and Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You. He was a terrible dancer, but he did a great deal of that around the house too, doing what we all affectionately called “the white man shuffle.” He loved the song The Safety Dance, and when we played it at my wedding, he made a point of telling me–as he grinned–that he was so glad I’d played “his song.” He loved The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Lou Reed, The Byrds, Flat and Scruggs, Arlo Guthrie and loved rock, old country, bluegrass and jazz in general.

My father was not always the most patient of men. Sometimes we argued and sometimes we yelled. I did inherit my stubborn nature from him, so it’s only natural that we butted heads every now and then. The greatest gift he ever gave me was that I have always known that my father was behind me, proud of me and ready to catch me if I fell. Even as he kept his worries and sadnesses from us, he was free with his love, hugging and telling us he loved us as frequently as he could. A phone call to him could stretch for hours. The last thing he said to me was “I love you” and as I struggle through my life without him, I can think of no better gift he could have given me.

Happy birthday Daddy. I love you more than words can say, and for you, one last time, The Safety Dance.

also posted on catharticink.com

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