My father was a piece of work.
He was kind and he had a scathing tongue. He was thoughtful and he never forgot a transgression. He had the memory of an elephant yet could never understand Facebook. He lived in Texas with a thick, unapologetic Boston accent and he was a Yankee in a sea of Rednecks. To know him was to love him but, man, he could drive you crazy. He was a formidable opponent in an argument and he could cut you down to size with a glare across the room. He was a tall, broad, over-sized man with a teddy-bear heart.
He was my rock.
On a fall afternoon in October 2012, the world lost that piece of work and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him so much that it hurts physically. So many things I want to ask him, tell him or just laugh about with him and those moments are gone, lost to cancer too soon.
Fortunately, though, that tough old bird taught me a thing or two before he left on his terms. Eight simple rules, in fact...
8 simple rules from my Dad
1. Traveling is a must and use Marriott points every chance you get.
My dad taught me the art of travel and fine living. He took me to fine restaurants to teach me how to use the forks. He taught me how to live in a strange city when your flight is cancelled. I learned how to fly standby, I learned how to plan a trip virtually for free using Marriott points and that, while cliche, the journey is always more fun than the destination. Never was my father more pleased than when standing in his intended travel location declaring logistical success. (Just ask me sometime about how he and my Mom got to Prague.) And, most importantly, he taught me that saying the words, “How would you like to be a hero today?” to the gate agent often results in better seats. (Try it. It works … sometimes).
2. Raise your kids well and spoil your grandkids rotten.
He taught me that our first child was the one who made us parents and that our second one would be the apple of her daddy’s eye. As I look at my two kids and catch glimpses of my father, I realize they got the very best he had to offer. No one could have asked for a better grandfather and love like he had for them simply doesn’t exist elsewhere. He thought the sun rose and set with them and every child deserves to feel the way he made them feel: like they hung the moon.
3. Always act like you know what you are doing. Always.
He taught me that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission and when all else fails: act like you know what you are doing. Admittedly, this advice has gotten me into a little trouble here and there. However, without it, this blog wouldn’t exist. Every time I sit down to write, I simply pretend that I know what I’m doing and humbly beg for forgiveness when I press “Publish.” So far, so good...
4. Reality TV and game shows are the greatest inventions ever.
He taught me that "Jeopardy," "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor" are never to be missed. EVER. I swear, my father treated "Survivor" just as he did Sunday Mass: religiously and faithfully. Actually, my family will tell you that he was downright obsessive about "Survivor." And, I smile as the kids and I do the man proud every night as we settle in to the sound of “This IS 'Jeopardy'!”….
5. Fathers exist to save a daughter’s sanity during the holidays.
He taught me that when your turkey is frozen on Thanksgiving morning, a dad will buy a $70 free-range turkey at 10 a.m. for the 20 guests coming to save his eight-week postpartum daughter’s sanity. (And he won’t laugh in front of you too hard while you are attempting to defrost the turkey in your bathtub). Thanksgiving just wasn’t the same this year without him sitting at my kitchen table constructing the tomato/mozzarella appetizers and the dips sort of sucked because he wasn’t here to remember that we needed the baguettes.
6. Dads are banana boys.
He taught me that a dad will be a “Banana Boy” at miles 8 and 17 of your first marathon, cry with you at the finish line and whisper to you that your finish time was the one he dreamed in his head the night before. My father would brag to his friends about every single running success his daughter achieved and I sorely miss my surprise boxes from Amazon containing the latest running best-seller that would be signed “…saw this and thought of my marathoner.”
7. Give your daughter away graciously.
He taught me that when a dad sees his daughter in her wedding gown, he says, “My eyes are crying but my heart is happy.” When he walked me down the aisle on that September morning, he openly accepted the man who took his place and he graciously learned that the language of NASCAR is universally spoken in the absence of shared hobbies. Hubby didn’t speak golf and he didn’t speak cars but on Sundays during his visits, they could be found sharing beers and shouting over the sounds of engines revving. (NASCAR was turned off in time for "Survivor," of course…)
8. Celebrate “The Lasts.”
He taught me that the “The Lasts” are just as important than “The Firsts” and should be cherished just as much. While he relished all of our kids’ Firsts, he always cautioned me to be wary of the Lasts: the Last time you are able to pick your child up before they get too tall, the Last time you give them a tub bath before they start showering on their own, the Last time your kids FaceTime with Poppy. The Firsts are fun but The Lasts are the ones that stick with you.
As I’ve pondered my father’s death, I have come to the realization that my dad is still teaching me even though he’s not here. He’s teaching me how to grieve for a parent, how to be the kind of friend necessary when loss happens and how to help my children heal. He’s teaching me that our family bonds are strong and that while you may not remember the specific things people do for you, you will always remember how they made you feel. He may be gone but he’s still writing in his rule book for me.
Father’s Day hurts the most and as summer approaches, the memories, of course, flood back. And, although I will desperately miss calling him on the day that honors fathers, I am surrounded by amazing fathers and for that, I’m grateful. I know fathers serving in the military, fathers-to-be, fathers of grown children and fathers of tiny wee ones. I have a father-in-law who married into our family who has accepted me and my children as his own. And, most importantly, I have a husband who is creating his own 8 Simple Rule list with my children every day. On days I miss him so much it hurts, I remember my dad as he’d want me to: on the biggest trip of his life with endless Marriott points.