Dads are intrinsically super heroes. They kiss your boo-boos better, help you get revenge on that pimple-faced boy that broke your heart, and always have a shoulder to cry on when you need it.
Our perceptions of people can change over time; especially of the ones that are no longer in our daily lives. Time heals all wounds. The unfavorable memories are slowly forgotten and replaced with the happiest ones. I like to think of it like a vacation reel. When the moments we remember the most resemble the movie version of our photo album. For the younger people in the audience, a photo album is an actual book with pages filled with real paper pictures of your family. Then, when you want to share them, your loved ones come over to your house and, I kid you not, you can actually hear them lol-ing. Just like Facebook though, when all the images are seen through an appealing filter, you end up with a distorted image that doesn’t show the truth behind the veil. With a pair of rose colored glasses, your super hero quickly transforms into an infallible idol.
I think he would be pretty pissed off if I remembered him that way. “What, 4 weeks ago I was a stubborn ass and now I’m a saint?” Plus, in viewing him this way we rob him of some of the darker characteristics that I loved the most. Like his affinity for crazy women. You have all heard the stories about his wild wives, pick a number, any number. I gratefully owe my life to this proclivity. I’m sure my brothers and sisters would agree that his existence in their lives is directly correlated to his love of strong, spirited women.
But why have a Leave-it-to-Beaver pot roast and “How was your day honey?” when you can eat on the edge of your seat with excitement; not knowing if you would end up making love on the kitchen table or dodging flying flatware. From Ordinary to extraordinary.
Let us not forget his sharp tongue and infamous sarcasm. It didn’t matter if I had a rough day or was emotional from pregnancy hormones; if I left an opening, he would find a smart ass joke to fill it with. I think it might have actually hurt his brain to hold witty comments in. You did not want to get caught in the crossfire when his humor and quick thinking were on point. “Pew, Pew, Pew!” It breaks my heart to think of all the Putin-Palin joke opportunities he is missing.
It was his perceived loss of this particular trait that seemed to be the most hard on him. From where I stood, often times in the cross-fire, he never lost that sense of humor, wit, and ability to express it. But when a person has a heart as big as he does, you feel everything so much more. The good times are kissed by sunshine and accompanied by a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. Those harder times just penetrate that much deeper and radiate so much more intensely. No matter how tall and stoic he stood, you could see the impact of that emotion in his eyes. People will tell you it’s bad to feel too much or too loudly and to hold it in. I loved being able to see him experience each feeling and every moment with an intense fervor. It was real and it was beautiful.
With the best of intentions, we try to memorialize our loved ones with images of them at their “best”. A few pictures of when they were older, but mostly snaps of when they were happy, healthier, younger. Truth: Your youngest self is not your best self! It’s a lot easier to be amazing when you are blessed with brains, beauty, confidence, and raw talent. When you no longer have those natural gifts, it takes strength, courage, and determination to be brilliantly amazing.
I can’t even fathom the pain and loss his giant heart felt after his traumatic brain injury. In my opinion, that’s when my dad was his best self; even if he couldn’t see it. He showed me that a person can lose their entire identity, literally cease to exist, and still rise above it a more beautiful and fierce creature than ever before. When life was really at its toughest and he felt like he couldn’t possibly bear the weight of it another moment, some how he managed to muster up the strength to not just survive but to really thrive. Day after day, he would rise up to the challenges and just “keep on doing it a thousand times again.”¹
I had just got home from work when I got the call. Doctors said he might only have a few days or weeks left. I threw everything in the truck and got on the road in record time. I drove like a federal fugitive, breaking all sorts of laws across state lines. I could see the lunar eclipse waning out my side window and I remembered that later tonight a green tailed comet was set to fly by the full moon. Despite the icy roads and rare celestial happenings, I didn’t dare stop to take a break. How would I ever forgive myself if that 5 minute break was the difference between holding his hand and never seeing him again. Now, I’ve seen a lot of winter car wrecks, but I had never seen so many in one night where the vehicles had actually rolled over. That was especially scary for me because I know fatigue was most likely the culprit that caused those drivers to roll from end to end and not the blizzard conditions. I remember laughing to myself thinking about how ironic and typical it would be if, by the time I had gotten there, he made a miraculous recovery; alert and snarky enough to criticize how long it took me to get there. Then all this worry and putting myself on dangerous roads would have been for not.
As it turns out, it was all for not; just not in the satirical way I had hoped. I had been up over 24 hours. Well over half way there, my sister called and told me I was too late. I was so lost, not knowing whether I should cut my losses and turn home or keep driving towards an unwinnable situation. As fate would have it, just minutes ahead of me multiple cars violently met across both sides of the interstate. One horrifying call perhaps saving me from a tragically ill fate. 3 of the cars had rolled over with passengers still climbing out the windows and assessing the damage. There must have been 15 people standing on the interstate, their cars totaled and undrivable. When I pulled up to the wreckage, this guy was smiling. He jokingly teased about the number of people and assured me that everyone was just fine. I crept by slowly and noticed how calm all these people were, surely feeling shocked and blessed to see such wreckage and yet everyone walking around unscathed.
I don’t think I made it 900 feet before I had to pull over. Oblivious to the wreckage still within sight, everything just hit me in that moment. There’s no happy ending to my story; my dad is not coming back like some bad practical joke. As I’m sitting there broken, bawling my eyes out, I heard him laughing at me. Not at my pain, but at the irony of it all. During the last 6 hours of my drive, I had fought my way through the darkness and weather; not knowing the whole time that the game was rigged. I never had a chance. It was 5am now, but he had passed away, alone at 11:15 the night before. His voice hijacking my conscience. “Come on now, you know how this works. Life’s a ….” Well, you know. You can’t turn back the clock and we don’t play the what-if game.
“So,” he asks me, “Just what are you gonna do about it?” Filled with love I am inspired by this thought: I’m going to do what you would do daddy. What you did. I am going to “rise up and I’m going to keep on doing that a thousand times again.”¹
Follow the link to see:
Cami Bradley (The Sweeplings and America’s Got Talent), singing “Some Where Over The Rainbow”, at the ceremony honoring my father’s life.
¹Andra Day, “Rise UP”
Header picture by Elaine Kelly, author of Free The Truth