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20 Years Later- A Tribute To My Father

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There’s a song from the 80’s by Mike and the Mechanics that has the lyric, I wasn’t there that morning…when my father passed away. I didn’t get to tell him…all the things I had to say.

Those are poignant lines for me, because I wasn’t there that morning.

Out of both my parents, I was closest to my father. He was the one who seemed to get me. He knew when I needed space. He was my disciplinarian but also my protector. He put up with my teenage angst when I couldn’t be seen in the passenger seat of the car and instead sat in the back, as if being chauffered around my small Maine town like the princess I deemed myself to be.

My father taught me how to drive, starting at age 7 when I’d sit on his lap and steer our rust-colored Chevette down the hill to our house. It was my father who sat with me every month to balance my checkbook to the penny- a talent for financial detail I never quite acquired. He was the one who bought me a ten-speed Schwinn for my 8th grade graduation, and the one who had to deal with the wrath of my mother when I took a spill from it weeks later and suffered a mild concussion.

I have my father to thank for my very first job, too. At almost 17, I started doing odd jobs in advertising for the same local newspaper he worked for. It wasn’t long before I recognized how valued he was by the clients he served. Men in business suits and coveralls stopped by his cubicle bearing robust greetings and ideas for new ads. When we were out, my father was often treated to a discounted oil change or a baker’s dozen of the biggest bagels I’d ever seen. His local celebrity status was indicative of the kind of relationships he built with people. Though I never would have told him at the time, I admired him for the respect he’d clearly earned.

But like the unpredictability of New England weather, so, too, life is fickle. Over the years, rules at the newspaper changed and my father could no longer guarantee the integrity he’d once been able. Eventually, it was more than he could bear, so he left. 17 years with a job he’d adored, and with customers who adored him. I was there for his last day, when he was served cake.

While I continued on in my new role as in-house advertising rep, my father pounded the pavement looking to fill a new role of his own. He sold life insurance, placemat advertisements, and other jobs that seemed unworthy of his sales talent. I remember being so conflicted, but never once did my father make me feel guilt about my employment. To the contrary, he beamed with pride when I told him of new duties I’d been assigned.

Three years after leaving his advertising career, my father found a job he loved in the men’s department of JC Penney. He’d been there for only a couple weeks when a friend said she’d needed to go to the mall and asked if I’d join her. It was a Friday and I was tired. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the mall. Remembering that my father would be working, I reluctantly agreed. It would be nice to say hi.

I found my father hanging suit jackets on a rack. He was surprised to see me- delighted I’d taken the time to stop by. I remember being amused by just how happy he was to have me there. What was the big deal? It was great to see him smiling again. For the first time in years, he looked genuinely happy.

Later that night, I called to make sure my father made it home okay. It had started to snow, and my father was pre-diabetic. I reminded him that he needed to eat something. My father chuckled and teased me for being “a mother”. He assured me that he was fine and would talk to me again soon.

Phones don’t ring at 5 in the morning unless something is wrong. I knew before I answered what my sister would tell me through sobs. The paramedics had worked on my father, but he was gone. A massive heart attack took him from us at age 55.

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I wasn’t there that morning when my father passed away. And I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say. Like how thankful I was for the confidence he instilled in me and the model of integrity I fashion my own life around. For his patience, tenacity, and love.

I may not have told my father all the things I had to say, but I will be eternally grateful for making the decision that night to visit him. My last memory of him will not be a face worn with worry and stress. It will be the smile, the pure joy in his voice, how tall he was standing.

How happy he was to see me.

I love you, Dad.

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