Of Things Big and Small: Nine Years Without My Father

Dear Dad,

Today is August 5th, 2012. You died nine years ago. Funny, it seems like it was yesterday, and also a lifetime ago.

For a long time that evening stayed in my head. The balmy California dusk, the palm trees outside your bedroom window and the sound of kids splashing in the complex pool, after you had taken your last breaths and I was alone in the world.

But that was nine years ago, and now here I sit, in my office in Beverly Hills on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, 34 years old with a husband and two children at home. Part of me wants to implore, “Can you believe it, dad? I’m a mom? A wife? I made it past your death? Can you believe it?” But of course you would believe it.

Those are the very things – children, a family to call my own — that I’m sure you hoped for me. Those are the things I think you felt certain I would find, no matter how far I fell after you died. I hope that I have the same confidence in my girls one day, that no matter what happens to me, that they’ll survive. That they’ll thrive. I think some part of me knows that already. I mean it’s what we all do, isn’t it? We survive.

I wish you were here to meet my daughters, dad. You would love them so much. They both remind me of you in such strange ways sometimes. Something about their eyes, their determination to live and breathe and be part of this life. And not just that, but their determination to enjoy this life, to find mirth and delight and mischief and wonder in it all. That’s what you were best at, dad. Even when you were weighed down by life it seemed like all you had to do was pause, take a breath and some kind of light would find its way back to your eyes, a smile there, even if it wasn’t on your lips.

I miss you so much, Dad. And sometimes for the silliest things. This morning I was rummaging through the toolbox and I saw a spool of shower tape and remembered the afternoon you instructed me, weak from bed, on how to install a new showerhead. I’d wanted to skip the part with the shower tape – it seemed overly dramatic to have to wind that flimsy tape around the base before screwing on the nozzle – but you shook your head and stared me down and I finally retreated to the bathroom to do as you had told.

A few months later, living on my own for the first time I had to do it again. This time I skipped the tape, that seemingly unnecessary step, and when the water sprayed down the room proving that you had been right, I sighed and began again, winding the soft blue tape around the base, just like you’d said had to be done. And I smiled, glad to have had you teach me that, but sad too that there would so much more I would never learn from you.

I watch my daughters with their dad now and think about the kind of relationship they’ll have with him, about the way they’ll revere him and sometimes loathe him too, just as I did with you. Mostly I revered you, loved you. Still do. There have been times in the last year in which I wept, really wishing I could call you. Feeling confused and overwhelmed by life and all that has presented itself, wishing so much I could hear your kind and gentle voice talking me down from the ledge upon which I teetered, knowing you’d have some advice and soothing words to turn whatever felt big into something smaller. I have no doubt that Greg will be able to do that for our girls time and time again in their lives. Such is the art of fathers, I think. Turning what is large into something smaller, something softer and less scary, something we can handle.

I miss that in my life so much now. Just someone bigger and wiser and stronger than me, someone to tell me that these years will unfurl whether I want them to or not, that whatever is true now, will change and be both less true and even truer later. That whatever scary thing has awoken me from sleep or set me to crying on a Tuesday morning, won’t be the thing that takes away the light at the end of the day.

Nine years ago today I held your hand as you took your last breath. I’d been so determined to be there with you as you left this world, dad. It seemed like the smallest thing to be able to give in return for all that you had given to me, but it was all I had. I know it will always be one of the things I’ve worked hardest at in this life – being there in that moment – but it will always be one of the things I am most glad I was able to do.

With unending love,

Claire

9 comments

9 Comments

  • Posted August 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Really beautiful, Claire. Loved the shower tape. =) Reminded me of something Ken would have taught me. xoxo

  • Laura Bockowski
    Posted August 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Reading this with tears streaming down my face. You put into words what is in my heart. I lost my Dad on 4/23/12 and I miss him so very much. There are so many instances when I think to myself, I will have to call my Dad about this or that and then I remember. I always felt like whatever happened in my life, I’d be okay as long as I had my Dad. He always seemed to have the right answer or the ability to put things into perspective. Losing him makes me feel so much more vulnerable as if my safety net has just disappeared. Your story give me hope and something that I can identify with. Thank you for sharing what is in your heart.

  • Annie
    Posted August 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. Keeping you in my thoughts.

  • Posted August 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Love you, darling! Such a beautiful post…:))) xoxoxo

  • Kavita
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    It is amazing how you can you put grief in words. It’s magical.
    I lost my father 10 years ago. This piece reminded me of how I tried to stay still, not even blink, on the ride back from work to home after I got the news, thinking that doing so will somehow, magically, bring him back. Ironically, I had the money for the funeral in my purse.

  • Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully written and so true. It isn’t until we age, I feel, that we understand our fathers’ important place in our lives. My father died in 1995 and I have so much more wisdom about what it means to have a father now that I don’t have one but also, in looking back at the memories big and small. (Like the shower tape, I carry my dad’s “driving rules” that he taught me at the age of 16.)

    -Kristine

  • Posted August 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    This is so thoughtful and touching. Your dad sounds like an absolutely wonderful person. And I’m sure that ‘proud’ doesn’t even begin to describe how he felt to have you as a daughter. Thank you for sharing this lovely letter.

  • Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Grateful to you, as ever, Claire. Thank you for expressing such tender, deeply held feelings. Being there with your dad when he took his last breaths surely was a gift of immeasurable love. May that love continue to comfort you.

    Thank you for sharing your father with us.

  • Posted August 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    This is beautiful, Claire.

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