Friday, April 13, 2012

My Daddy Tribute: H is for Heart and Hugs

Daddy was a man with a big heart. He didn't always like to show it, but if you knew him at all, you knew it to be true. He could make anyone feel special. He had an amazing ability to remember everyone's name and some kind of a connection. That way, he was able to talk to anyone he met, even if it had been a while. And he didn't dominate the conversation.

Dad liked to pretend he wasn't big on kids. I guess when we were little, he wasn't sure what to do with us. But in his later years, as we were growing up, he had a lot of fun with them. They brought out a softer side to him that wasn't always so obvious. In my first 20 years of life, I only remember my father crying twice. Once was while we were watching My Girl and Macauley Culkins' character dies. The second was when my cousins' two year-old son was killed in a freak accident. This picture is the younger sibling of that little boy (who was born a couple of years later). I just love this picture of my dad. (Sorry, I have no scanner, so it's a picture of a picture.)

In his final year, he cried a lot. He sobbed like a baby when his mother died at the age of 95. I was only 3 when his father died and remember only a little. But I remember my mother always saying that he refused to show emotion when his father passed away. And then one day they went to visit the grave and he just collapsed.

My father also frequently cried about my mother. He would just be talking to me and then would sob for about 30 seconds. And then he would make himself stop. They had been together for almost 40 years. Despite all of their ups and downs, he truly loved her and couldn't stand to watch her deteriorate.

When my father died, so many people share their favorite stories about him. Everyone always talked about how he was so generous with himself and put so much thought into little things like gifts. Parents told me how they were always grateful how he helped their sons battle drug and alcohol addiction. As we were planning his memorial, the pastor told about a time he sat next to my father, who was out of breath, on the bench outside the sanctuary. He was really struggling that day. And then he said how he knew it would be okay and launched into the children's song "Jesus Loves Me." I don't know a lot of men who would expose themselves that way.

Even after he died, his love for his family still seemed evident. I will swear up and down that when I made my first phone call to other family members, I could feel his arms around me. Dad was never into hugs. In his last few years, though, he started doing it more and more. I still remember the last time I left him, at the end of that Christmas break. I gave him a hug goodbye. He held on like he knew it was the last time he would see me. (Ironically, the last time I had seen his mother, also a person pretty much adverse to hugging, she had done the same thing. It was just a few months before this.) That final week in the LTAC facility, a couple of days before he was moved into Hospice, he "rallied." His eyes finally opened for the first time in 6 weeks and he could sort of communicate. I remember getting ready to leave that night. I was so exhausted and just needed to get some sleep. A couple of tears actually slid out of his eyes. I put my arms across him and my head on his shoulder. He actually turned and pressed his cheek into mine. It was our final hug, at least on Earth.

I always used to think that my big heart came from my mother. But now when I look back at my parents' lives, I can see how they equally contributed.

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