My daddy died on Tuesday night. Peacefully. Surrounded by his children. I held his hand as he passed.
I was not a Daddy’s girl. Far from it. But I loved my dad. And I know that he loved me.
He didn’t have to be my dad.
He met and married the woman who came with me. He had children from his first marriage and because of that he understood that we were a packaged deal, she and I, and he willingly supported me, taught me, and loved me as one of his own.
He chose to love me.
He never saw me as any different from them, even when I saw myself as that way. Even though I still sometimes see myself as different. Other.
He raised a daughter he didn’t have to raise. He did it all when a lesser man didn’t put forth the effort.
My daddy wasn’t perfect. Not by any stretch. He had his flaws. But then again, don’t we all? Yes, of course we do. We screw up and we forgive and move on and try to get past it and somewhere along the way we’re succcessful most of the time.
Even with his flaws, there are some things I know. Some truths.
He loved my mother.
My parents’ marriage wasn’t perfect, of that I’m sure. But they loved each other. In 25 years of marriage, they had exactly one fight, and while it was a big one, it was the only one. They weathered that storm and came out of the other side of it still together.
He loved his kids.
He just did. Plain and simple. He may not have ever said it, but he showed it. Time and again. He was a constant presence. We may have come and gone in and out of his orbit with our own lives, but he was always there.
He was patient.
The man had the proverbial patience of Job. He taught 15 year old me to drive, and while he may have chain-smoked the entire time, he never got short with me or corrected my mistakes in a way that made me feel small.
He wasn’t quick to anger.
Some people are hot-headed. Not Daddy. He was so rational. He told you what would happen if you didn’t do something and then, without fuss or raised voice or even a hint of a temper, he carried out the consequence. If he said “clean your room or it all goes on the porch” and you didn’t clean your room then you might just come home the next day to find your personal effects outside the house. And then you got the added punishment of moving your stuff from the porch back to your room. On your own.
He loved being outside.
Sometimes he would ride up into the mountains around us just to ride and take me along, always stopping at the same spot so we could get out and take a look. He went hunting occasionally but never in the 25 years I knew him did he kill a single animal on purpose. He would always said he hadn’t seen anything worth shooting, but I always thought he was just too taken with the majesty of all he did see to kill anything.
He grew restless easily and had a tremendous spirit of adventure, so if we were ever shut in the house because of bad weather, his desire to get out and go was nearly palpable. He couldn’t stand to be trapped or sidelined. He wanted to see all there was to see in our small town, the only place he ever lived. He wanted to help where he could because that’s the kind of man he was. A helper with a kind heart.
He was gentle and quiet.
He was a large, intimidating-looking man, but the minute people got to know him, they were at ease. There was nothing about him to be feared.
He spoke when he had something to say and when he had something to say, especially if it was big, you listened, because he so rarely gave his opinion unless it was asked for. If he felt it was important enough to tell you, that meant you better take it to heart.
He was a jokester. He hated spiders. And heights. He whistled through his teeth. He loved animals. He wasn’t fancy and had no desire to be. He loved the simple things in life.
As I was driving home Tuesday night and thinking about the kind of man he was, I kept hearing Whitman’s words in my heart.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
My daddy probably had no idea who Walt Whitman was, but I think my daddy would’ve loved Walt Whitman.
Rest in peace, Daddy.
I’ll see you in every mountain on the horizon and in every valley as I look out over it from above.