In 16 days I turn 49 years old.
My father died this morning.
It was not unexpected, but that doesn't lessen the sting any. His health had been on the decline and he'd gone from being this stoic, strong man to being frail and needing help for just about everything. He had Parkinson's Disease, had survived kidney cancer, and had lost most of his hearing, and I'm sure he hated all of that.
But, he died at home, which is where he wanted to be. And it's where he could be because my sister Dorothy quit her job a couple of years ago and dedicated herself to caring for our parents. She gave up having any real life for herself, and has done the full time job of at least four people, providing them with hands-on dedicated care, doing it all.
Yeah, we owe her. We owe he a lot.
But, my dad. I wrote this on his 81st birthday, and it seems fitting to run again:
When I was a little kid, mid-to-late 60's - early 70's, women were burning their bras and fighting for equality, while little girls were banned from things like Little League baseball and auto shop. Girls were discouraged from developing friendships with those dirty, dirty boy because ONE DAY those dirty, dirty boys would harbor dirty, dirty thoughts about them. While the boys played rough games of Kick Me Off The Monkey Bars during recess, the girls were expected to swing (with their legs crossed if they were in a dress, of course) or play hop scotch.
Girls had Girl Things to do, and boys had Boy Things. One certainly did not teach his young daughter to hook a worm and cast a fishing pole, and one certainly did not spend fatherly one-on-one time at the side of a small lake teaching her the difference between trout and crappie.
Except for my dad.
Whether it was a conscious effort on his part to blur the gender lines or if he just wanted to teach one of his kids to fish, my father ruined many of his own fishing trips by taking me along. He taught me how to get the worm on the hook in a way it wouldn't wash off, he taught me how to cast my own rod and what it felt like when I had a bite. He made me hold my catch myself, all slimy and gross, and get the hook out.
When we were in Germany, I spent more mornings with him out by the water than I can readily count. It couldn't have been much fun for him, sitting there with an overly talkative and whiny little girl, but he did it. He allowed me to step over those gender lines as if it was a matter of course.
There were no arguments about his little girl playing baseball in the giant community backyard with the boys. He even bought me a baseball glove.
He once bought me a guitar while he was on TDY and held it on his lap on the plane ride home; while other little girls were learning feminine woodwinds, I learned to rock out.
I played on the junior high school basketball team, and never once heard "girls don't do that."
I mowed the lawn; one summer he hired the son of a family friend to cut the grass, but when I wanted to save money to buy a 10 speed bike, the job was mine. I never heard "that's not girl's work," though many of my friends heard it from their fathers. Mine handed over the lawn mower to his 12 year old daughter, paid her $4 a week, and when I had almost enough money, he drove me to pick out my bike and he covered my monetary shortfall.
About a mile from home he pulled the station wagon over, and told me to ride it the rest of the way home. I hadn't asked, but he knew how badly I wanted to ride my new toy. He pulled the bike out of the car and let me go.
My dad, whether he intended to or not, whether he was comfortable with it nor not, stepped a little bit ahead of the times and let his daughter soar. I don't know if he went with the changing times or if he saw that no matter what, his youngest daughter was never going to be a girly-girl and accepted it for what it was, but he allowed me to be me before the climate of the times would.
Whatever his reasons, what he gave me was the gift of being comfortable with myself. My parents are amazing people, but it really sticks with me that my father was a little progressive when my friends' fathers were not, and could not, be. Very quietly, he gave me that sense of comfort, he showed me strength, he showed me what real men are made of.
Today my dad is 81.
You may thank him for the gift of me. I am that special ;) Oh, and wish him a Happy Birthday, too. He deserves all the good wishes the world can muster.
The world is just a bit dimmer today without him. While he's in a better place—and I do believe that—it sucks for the rest of us.