My mom swears that bad things come in threes. I know people can always come up with examples of it, but I can usually debunk it with a little research.
That said, there have been three painful deaths in my life over the past 11 months. The first was the loss of my dog, Chunk. The second was the loss of his sister, Despereaux.
And then yesterday, my dad passed away.
I’ll be speaking at his funeral. This is what I have written, thus far.
I generally consider myself a writer and a story-teller, so when I tell you that writing this is one of the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write, I mean it from the absolute core of my being.
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a story of a man who rescued a woman and her four children from a fleabag motel in May of 1983. He rescued us from a life of never going to the same school for more than two and a partial school year.
He was a divorced, 31-year-old man with a good job, a nice house, and a nice car. She’d just turned 31, and all she really had were her children, ages 5 to 12, and a crappy car.
But this is not a fairy tale. To leave out the painful parts would be to rob you of the true beauty of this story.
As the oldest child, I often acted as parent to my younger siblings. Mike thought I was bossy and didn’t mince words about it. So, I was confused about my role in this new setting.
Our house was always full of people, some were treasure, like his niece and nephew (our cousins) who visited often. Some were not nice to be around, so I stayed in my bedroom as much as I could. There was a lot of head-butting.
Drugs, alcohol, and even physical violence were part of our story. I didn’t learn about the drugs until much later. I’d just thought my mom was dying of cancer because she’d lost so much weight, and maybe it had already gone to her brain.
There was a lot of chaos, and there were times when I thought I hated Mike and I was fairly certain that he hated me.
But there was also the bedroom he built in the back of the garage, so that I could have my own room for the first time in my life. There were the Saturday mornings in which I’d wake up to go to a marching band competition, and there’d be an envelope of money left on my bedroom door, so I’d have lunch money on my trip. There were the balloons he secretly sent on my 14th birthday and never knew it was him until a few years ago. There was the time I saw him slam someone against a wall because that person had threatened my mother. There was the time he came to the gas station because I called home because some men were making suggestive comments to me and I was afraid to leave the front of the store, by myself. He got out of the car and stared down those men so that I could ride my bike home while he watched them. He protected me, and I don’t think anyone had ever done that, before.
And there was absolutely no doubt that he loved my mom. It was not uncommon to see them standing by the sink in the kitchen, just holding each other.
The chaos in our home seemed to peak in my junior year of high school. That’s about the time that mom told him it was time to give up the bad stuff. He had to choose between that life and us.
He chose us!
He later told me that he assumed I’d been the kind of teenager he had been and that’s why he’d treated me the way he had. He told me that I hadn’t deserved it, and he was sorry.
I remember the first time I realized that he really did love me as his own. I had had to have emergency surgery and was in the hospital for a few days. He checked in with me multiple times while I was recovering to see if I needed or wanted anything – just to make sure I was okay.
And then the grandchildren came along, and Mike, who I began referring to as “My dad,” just metamorphosed into Papa, who was always adding to the wonderland in the back yard for the kiddos.
My favorite story to tell about my dad and the Papa he was is the time when my one of my nieces, was over visiting. She loved to be pushed on the swing Papa had built out front. But it was pouring rain, that day, so he couldn’t take her outside.
She just begged, “Pweeeeze, fwing me, Papa!”
Papa kept telling her that it was raining and when it stopped, they could go out.
But my niece just kept begging, and Papa couldn’t take it anymore. He went out in the rain, took that swing down, brought it into the garage, and hung it so that he could “fwing” her to her heart’s content.
When I tell people what our lives were like, growing up, they seem amazed that my family is as close as it is. I always say that we, the kids and the parents, grew up together.
My dad became the husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather that we all needed because he loved us enough to change.