While Daughters and I have been scurrying about, planning Father's Day surprises for their parent, one person is conspicuously absent from the festivities...my father.
He died in late Feb. of 2009, almost 1 1/2 years ago. It was multiple melanoma, a horrible bone cancer that took his strength and mental quickness, bit by slow bit. He fought it for a little more than three years before it won. In May, he and Mom would have been married 50 years.
Dad was a big, quiet Dutch farmer who grinned a lot, and said very little. (Except to his family, in private where no else could hear.) He endured decades of silly Father's Day presents, included scribbled pictures, painted plaques ("God made only so many perfect heads...the rest he covered with hair"), weird ties, socks -- and books. He loved reading, especially Westerns and history, and liked to point out, in spite of his widespread knowledge, that he was only a "dumb Hollander" because he'd dropped out of school after eighth grade. (He hated it, and his South Dakota farmer dad needed his help, anyways.) Even after his kids grew up and started presenting him with more "normal" presents, like steak dinners, tractor books and Bit-O-Honeys (he loved those), he had to endure a whole new wave of homemade oddities from his grandchildren.
The pain of missing him has subsided to an ache now. I still wish that he would walk through the door on Sunday as we put the steaks on. He'd call me "cwazy," while Mom says I'm a "good Hollander," as I brag about the grill from Craigslist, or the fresh strawberries found on sale.
Husband and I could use his advice on a second vehicle...whether we should do this or that...what he thinks about the latest shenanigans in Michigan and Colorado politics. (Not to mention the whole BP thing.) Husband and Dad would probably sit off to one side, talking quietly with thoughtful pauses, as Daughters bustle out to the table, silverware and paper napkins in hand. One daughter would flip her long hair over her grandpa's gleaming head, teasing him for being a 'hippie' before she says "Dinner is ready."
I want to feel Dad's strong arms holding me tight -- something he could not do the last year from weakness. (It was hard for him, anyways -- his stoic Dutch forbears rarely told who they loved, let alone TOUCH them.) I want to catch that mix of scents around him: diesel oil, sweat, Old Spice and an overlying, clean smell of fresh-mown hay and wide open spaces. I want to smile at the fashion plate he makes, wearing the dark blue work clothes he's favored since I can remember, "Pete" embroidered in fancy script on the shirt pocket. His clunky work shoes, crusted with dirt and cow manure, would be dropped at the front door, just before he came in.
But he can't -- not now. And I can't, either. But I can:
*Never stop thinking about him. Refusing to remember will not make the pain go away. This ache is the price of loving him for all my life. Was it worth it? Would I do it again? Of course.
*Never stop speaking of him, either -- especially to the girls, Husband and Mom. People have stopped mentioning Dad to my mother, thinking it will ease her. She worries, instead, that they have forgotten him.
*Keep his past advice in mind for future decisions. Dad was lightning-fast and unmoving on certain subjects:
--tell the truth. no matter what.
--don't give your word unless you mean to carry it out.
--bargain things down, or get them directly from the source.
--don't argue with idiots or bigots; they won't understand, anyways.
--pay your bills; they come before fun things.
--save money regularly, even if it's just a little at a time.
-- your good name, and your faith in God, are of inestimable value.
*Honor his memory. And his example.
Dad, I love you. Happy Father's Day.