To My Dad on His 65th Birthday

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Before he got really sick, my dad mentioned he wanted to write a column in the local paper about recreation. He was the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Richland and really (sometimes annoyingly - read: calling the cops on kids skateboarding on picnic tables at one of his parks while I sat in the car mortified) passionate about his job. It was a lifestyle for him. Work and life had to balance. He was always encouraging me to take time to breathe and create space for myself to have hobbies and interests outside of what I produced at my cubicle every day. He pushed it. He ingrained it.

So, for Father's Day, I got him a leather-bound journal to write it all down. I didn't know what he'd done with the journal until we moved everything out of the Richland house after he died. But when I found it, I saw this:


He hadn't written anything else.

About six months after he was gone, my mom and I attended a grief retreat at the fantastic Harmony Hill. That long weekend helped me work through a lot of what I was feeling after losing him. One of the exercises required me to write him a letter. Another (that totally shocked me and made me feel feisty and rebellious before inevitably caving) was to write a letter back to myself in his voice. That one was tough.

But, inspired by that weekend and the journal I got him, I wrote him a letter for his birthday. If you're not into this stuff, or you just don't care, you don't have to read it. If this ode can help one person feel like they aren't alone in carrying the weight of a major loss, that's all I can hope to achieve. It's pretty raw and unedited. I wanted to show where my mind really goes when I try to put into words everything the people I love mean to me.

Herewith, a letter to my dad on his 65th birthday - here goes nothin':
Well, dad, it's your birthday. Today you would have been 65. I never really thought about the possibility of this, of you not being here for me to celebrate you. I never thought you'd leave - I KNEW you wouldn't. I never thought you'd get sick or you'd suffer. I never thought Raz, mom and I would eat ice cream at your grave, that we'd feel so awkward, helpless and vulnerable. 
But here we are. Year two celebrating your birthday without you. Clearly, I still have a hard time believing it's real. I would have gotten you a really great present. I would have gotten you a card with dogs on it, or one that talked about farts. Because fart cards are funny. We would have eaten a lot of ice cream. I hope you know that.
Do you remember that night at the Beach House when I was about to head home and you insisted on walking me up all those stairs to my car so you could hug me tightly and see me off? I think about that night all the time. Your balance wasn't so great and we told you not to come with me, but you said you were "tired of all these women" telling you what to do. You were pretty tired by the time we made it to the top, but you sure were proud. I was proud, too, because I knew you wanted to be able to do dad things and walking me to my car was one of the things you always did. I'm sure you wanted to kick the tires to make sure they had enough air in them, too. Maybe pick the leaves out from under the wiper blades. Tell me to be safe, tell me you loved me.
When I drove away and saw you, mom and Aunt Linda carefully navigating the steps back down, I watched you in my rear-view mirror. I knew you wouldn't be able to walk me up the stairs again. It was the gift of a memory I'll never forget. A moment so achingly in time, burned forever into our shared experience.
I'm sad we won't get to do simple things like that anymore. I'm sad we don't get to celebrate your birthday together and I'm sad we don't have lots of birthdays to look forward to. But we did have a good run, didn't we? We watched a lot of movies, we ate a lot of ice cream and we had fun just being together. Not everyone gets that with their dad and I got a whole lot of it. We're lucky, you and me.
So, it's your birthday, yes, but I want you to know I celebrate you every day, I see you everywhere and I know you're looking out for me. Raz, mom and I will eat ice cream with you again this year. We'll eat with you every year. Because without you there is no us. You will live on. You will be celebrated. 
I think about you every moment. I love you endlessly. I am you and you are me, forever and ever. As long as I live, my Kouka you'll be.  
See you on the other side, 
Your Bud
The man, the dad, the legend, rocking his 30+-year-old Birks.

4 comments:

  1. Very moving Whitney, thank you.

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  2. Whitney that's such a beautiful story. It moved me to tears and really hits home. My father has just been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer with very limited time and not a moment goes by that I don't pray and beg for more time with him. It's never enough time though and all I can do is cherish the memories we have built and build new ones, one day at a time. Thank you for this - needed to read it.

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    1. Hi Maria -- thanks for reading. You're right that it really is all about the memories you create, even at the end. Every moment I spent with my dad is special in its own way. I'm sorry you have to feel what I've felt watching someone you love to much get sick. This time is precious and I'm glad you get to say goodbye. If you ever want to discuss, I'm just an email away!

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