As I looked out over the pier at Seal Beach, I could smell something familiar; an odor I associated with the docks I used to fish at with my dad. What unraveled from that was a slew of memories and feelings... and ended up being a poignant tribute to my dad that was very healing. Hope it touches you like my memories did for me. <3
My dad was an unusual man. Unorthodox. Silly. Incredibly thoughtful. Brilliant. Scary. Flawed.
I was his Chicky. Not your every day term of affection, which should clue you in that he was no ordinary man. Just ask my sisters—my kid sister’s was Boo-Boo (always getting hurt—STILL always getting hurt but always okay lol). And when my youngest sister was born, he announced: “We had a lamp.” (Her name was to be Tiffany).
This peculiar man raised me. Diggin deep, I can see that with him, I was allowed to be goofy and silly. But I wasn’t. Because someone had to be the serious one.
I have few regrets in my life. One is not letting him teach me this unapologetic way of being a free spirit. The other was cutting him out of my life for twelve years, and depriving him and my children of forming a beautiful bond. None of us will ever get that time back.
But we made peace. Before he passed, he did get to meet the kids and they took an instant love to him and his quirkiness. There was also a single phone call in the month before his death that changed everything for us. Honesty. Forgiveness. Vulnerability. Compassion. The unmistakable love of an emotionally reserved father fully expressed freely after 42 years. Nothing that ever happened before this moment mattered any longer.
Not all single moments change your life for the worse.
I remember him in the craziest of ways. People typically talk of feathers and pennies and other traditional symbols that are “signs” of a passed love one with you. Not my dad. Hell no. He didn’t even leave this earth conventionally.
I happened to be on the phone with a deeply and spiritually connected friend in the moment that he passed. She saw him transition and described in unbelievably detailed precision how he freed himself of his physical body, walked to the light where his loved ones awaited him, and he lit up with joy, exclaiming this felt like Disneyland.
Now that’s how I’d like to think about death’s destination.
But even moreso—my friend literally felt and conveyed the excitement of Disneyland (and side note: she said in that moment, she no longer feared death because she saw it, and sadly for us on earth, she passed only a few years later—on the anniversary of the day my family scattered his ashes).
Believe what you will. But my dear friend and father were connected in more ways than just her passing on his memorial anniversary. So, I hold this transitional experience of his death close to my heart as truth.
And so a man who approaches death in such excruciating physical agony to welcome his ultimate bliss is just the beginning of his “end.” For he continues to visit, leaving tell tale signs that he is watching over us.
Nope—not pennies, feathers, birds, etc.
He’s in the SHADOW license plate I see often near my local grocery store—his end of life nickname from friends.
I hear him in the “12 Pains of Christmas” song that sounds like his own musical parodies he’d write for us (“Better not cry, better not pout; Santa Claus’ll come and smack you in da mout.” And then he’d laugh himself to tears over his “genius”). It was all part of his dumbass humor that lightened up the worst of any situation.
I smell him at the docks I recently found in a local park—that unique small town salt water air that only fishing locals know.
He constantly shows up on the radio with “Another One Bites the Dust” – both because that would be a prime example of his humor about his own death, but mostly because Queen was one of our favorite 45s we’d listen to when I was growing up.
Those damn blue fish likenesses similar to the huge swordfish he had hanging on our basement wall—in random places like Miller’s Ale House (my grandparents’ last name and the place we went to eat after our memorial), a small aquarium I took my kids to, and a flashlight in Cracker Barrell I recently found.
Both my children have parts of his humor—my daughter’s laughter at stupid, quirky shit and my son’s dry, sarcastic wit. And I love both.
But he leaves behind more than these signs.
He was a creative builder. He built a dollhouse that was an exact replica of our family home. He also made me a special “JRD”-initialed wooden case to store my Barbie stuff, right down to a secure place to safely store those little shoes so they didn’t get lost. Add losing these items to my list of regrets.
The man was a human paper shredder. Ahead of his time with conserving space by tearing up pieces of paper and breaking branches into mulch sized pieces with his hands. It was his therapy.
I can hear his patronizing “Yes, dear,” as he answered my mom and snickered at us. I saw some of his aloof yet clearly protective mannerisms in my last boyfriend.
My family continues to greet each other “Happy Bird-day” instead of Happy Thanksgiving.
My dad was good with his hands—an airplane mechanic—and a fixer of everything. He knew so much useless information that you wondered where on earth his brain stored it all. The man was beyond intelligent.
So why am I surprised that I was recently led to a job working with massive amounts of tools, connecting to the aviation industry, and working with a brilliant but all-over-the-place man like him? (Dad at work again, laughing as I try to figure out what all these tools are lol)
People—including me—easily missed his softness behind the wounded gruffness.
But it was there, begging to be seen. I wish I could have seen and felt it then; but I see and feel it now. The hidden tenderness. The love for, as he put it in his last call, his greatest creations: his three daughters.
Ironically, even though I was closer to my Nanny, in times of need, it’s my daddy who shows up and makes himself known (I know she is there, too, but boy, does he make a show of it!) It’s such a clear and nonsensical way of showing up—and it’s exactly what I need to remember he is with me every moment of every day. And I feel nothing but love for him and from him.
Hope you’re fishing and building up a storm in your Disneyland, Dad xo