My dad left this world parallel to the way he lived his life- with meaning. To die on a day that is not only represented with numbers, but also with a command- march forth- is powerful and fitting. My dad brought meaning to the lives of so many while he was here. And, while he never commanded anyone, his words inspired people to march forth in their own lives.
I think I was always his toughest case. I wasn’t much of a marcher when he was alive. I was a “if I stand perfectly still everything will be fine” sort of person. That’s not the way life works though and life will teach you that lesson when you are ready to learn. It was only after his death, and the experience of other massive losses within a quick succession thereafter, that my dad’s lessons really started to take a hold of me. In his death, I was reborn, which is both a comforting and painful reality.
We teach people how to treat us and, thanks to my anxiety, people used to see me as someone who needed protecting. Really though, I could have been a Bond villain and my dad’s instinct would have been to protect me. That’s what dads do for their daughters. In the weeks leading up to his death, my dad tried to protect me from seeing him weak. He didn’t want me to know he was sick. But, I will never forget the first time I saw him and realized that something was grievously wrong.
My dad loved music so much. He’s the one who taught me to love it, too. I used to look forward to time with my dad in the car, because that is where he really let loose. He would blast the music, play drums on his steering wheel and play air guitar. Don’t worry, my mom taught me how to drive. For many summers, and during the year in between college and law school, I worked for my dad’s company. It was those drives down to the city that I treasured the most. Cruising (and sometimes sitting) on 90/94, we would listen to WRXT and sing together. Sometimes he took a work call and I would gaze out the window. I felt at home in that car with him. Safe. We both loved Lin Brehmer, a longtime XRT DJ. Lin has a segment called Lin’s Bin, where he answers listener questions on the radio. But, he doesn’t just answer the question, he lovingly crafts a response and uses music to make his points. He’s a brilliant writer and storyteller.
On the day I realized something was grievously wrong with my dad, I was heading out to my parents’ house for dinner and listening to a repeat of Lin’s Bin in the car. The question posed to him was “is everything going to be okay?” At the time, I was going through a rough period in my life and making some very intense decisions about my future. It was just the question I needed answered. I turned it up and listened intently. I even sat in my parents’ driveway as Lin finished up, tears streaming down my cheeks. Was everything going to be okay? A few moments later, I rang the doorbell and my dad answered. I had never seen him look so skinny in my life. My stomach dropped to the floor. Something was very wrong. Everything is not going to be okay, I thought.
The truth was hidden from me because I used to be a different person. Because of the extremely challenging things that were going on in my life a year ago, my dad didn’t want me to know that he was struggling, too. He didn’t think I could handle it. That’s how I taught people to treat me my entire life, with kid gloves.
A few days later, when I visited my dad in the hospital, he turned to me and said with a very weak voice, “sorry for the cat and mouse” and I said “it’s okay, Daddy. I’m stronger than you think” and he said “I know.” I didn’t believe it when I said it, but it turned out to be true. I held my dad’s hand for a whole week and watched him turn yellow. I helped him drink from a straw. I told him it was okay to die. Only a strong person can do that.
Sometimes it kills me that he can’t see me now, because I really am a different person today than I was a year ago. But, the fact of the matter is, if I hadn’t lost my dad, husband and dream of a family within the span of one year, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am. That’s the poetically unfair duality of life. That’s the meaning. We have no choice but to march forth and we shouldn’t want it any other way.
Last night, as I was heading to see my mom and brother, I caught the tail end of Lin’s Bin. And, I shit you not, a car drove past me on 94 with a license plate that said two words: Love Dad.
That was dad telling me everything is going to be okay.