My initial, and emphatically stalwart response to the news was, and still is: "Fuck you, cancer." Putting my thoughts and feelings into inadequate words helps, though it will never fill the void. Nothing will, I guess.
Dad was such a solid presence, both physically and emotionally. Always there, always strong, always...Dad. Though we didn't see each other as much as either of us would like since I moved a couple states away, we still would talk occasionally. And sometimes for entire minutes at a stretch. You see, Dad and I shared a similar dislike for idle phone chit-chat. Even when I would call specifically to talk to him - say for his birthday - invariably, within a couple of minutes, he would say something along the lines of "Here, talk to your mother." and pass the phone off. I didn't mind, I knew it was all good. He and I communicated, we connected. We didn't need a long, drawn out conversation.
My Dad loved me, and all my siblings, though I don't recall the last time I ever heard him say the words. Not to say he was the strong, silent type. He was more the strong loud type, with the booming "Hey Stevo!" when I'd walk in the door, or the sneezes so loud they'd scare wildlife miles away. Some instant memories:
- Driving a ragtop jeep together from Colorado to Alaska. Uncounted miles would slip by without a word: comfortable, companionable silence. Occasionally we would speak, usually to point out an interesting sight or event. One particular instance occurred an hour outside Beaver Creek, Yukon, when he announced during one of his stints behind the wheel (quite calmly), "Looks like we don't have brakes anymore."
- The weekly schedule: Sunday was yard work, 60 Minutes, Disney and Wild Kingdom. Monday night was library night. That's where and why I learned to love to read. Tuesday night was bowling night. Sorry Dad, I never learned to love to bowl. Saturday was stealing a sip from the can of the awful Schlitz /Falstaff/Olympia beer as he slept through televised golf in the afternoon after completing his own 18 holes in the morning.
- The rare and wonderful times he was able to meet us at the YMCA for evening family swim.
- Romping in the house, with Mom admonishing us all that we'll get hurt.
- "The Brow" teaching me the proper way to cast off when doing a jumper on the driveway basketball court.
- Occasional poker nights in the basement with his buddies, and staking him my weekly allowance. Whether or not he did actually win, he always claimed it and paid out the stake.
- Backpacking trips where he taught me to experience the outdoors, put up a tent, stuff a sleeping bag and enjoy Wyler's powdered Pink Lemonade as the backpacker's happy hour cocktail of choice.
- Watching him play innumerable games of gin rummy with his dad.
- I know he was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but I don't know how he grew up. I like to think he might have been a friend of Warren Buffett, or through an off-chance meeting, pushed Warren into becoming a financial titan. Who knows, maybe Dad took his lunch money.
- I know Dad lived for a time in as a bachelor in Honolulu, Hawaii, but I don't know if he hung out at Waikiki picking up babes. I'm pretty sure he did, though.
- I know he was in the Navy and was stationed on submarines, but I don't know about anything about his time on a boat: did he bark a shin once or twice hopping through a hatch? Did he get claustrophobic, even a little? Did he get a glimpse through the periscope at the Russians?
- He loved me unconditionally.
- He was a dad. Any male can be a father; that's just sex and probability talking. But being a father is merely a small subset of what it means to be a dad.
To me, he was the gold standard dad. I'll never measure up to him (either in height or Dadness!), all I can do is strive daily to be the dad my kids deserve: the dad he was for me. He provided everything a family needed.
He taught me to be honest with everyone, to never settle for easy and dubious - rather to strive for excellence and honor. He taught me to love reading, and the worlds it would open to me. I can't express the joy I felt the first time we shared a book. I felt then that I had arrived. I was an adult, because I read a book my DAD read!
He taught me that it mattered that the yard looked good. That the house was well maintained, that a car should always be prepared and ready. He taught me the difference between a slotted and Philips head screwdriver.
He taught me the necessity of patience before buying - because often the impulse fades. He also taught me the value of value: I still have and use the power drill he and Mom gave me for my birthday 29 years ago. He awed me with the calculations he could do in his head at the dinner table. I'm still amazed. He was the rock I would hide behind to take a breather when things got to be too much.
I can only hope to live up to the standard he set for me as a dad, and as a just and good man. A standard he set unknowingly, just by being who he was. I can't count the number of times I've encountered a situation and my first thought was "How would Dad do it?" I ask myself that question constantly today, and will for the rest of my life.
I know it's cliche to quote songs and such, but there is one line in one song that keeps worming it's way into my head over and over and over: "Papa, I don't think I said I love you near enough." It's equally true and sad that I never did say it enough. I felt it though. I'd like to think he knew it, too, regardless.
Goodbye Dad. I love you.