My dad was sixty-one when I was born.
My dad was born in the twenties—yes the 1920s. His father, my grandfather, was born in ’95—no, not 1995…1895.
I am a twenty-six year old girl who up until nine months ago had an eighty-seven-year-old father.
My dad saw more achieved in his lifetime than most people will ever see in theirs. He saw everything, from World War II to the first commercial about the Apple iWatch (an invention he could never wrap his head around).
It also means that I was lucky enough to have my family history—the kind of family history that most kids have to go back multiple generations to find—told to me from a man who experienced most of it.
And finally it means that I was loved and wanted. I knew you were thinking it! Ha, but no, I wasn’t an ‘oops’ baby. Don’t feel bad, it’s one of the first things people ask me as my dad’s age starts to sink in. But I was actually very planned, wanted, and very much loved!
As inspirational as he was, I wasn’t left unaffected by his age. In fact, having an older father is terrifying.
When you’re a kid, you don’t think about it. Mostly because you have no idea or concept of age or time, but let me tell you I will never forget the moment I realized I wouldn’t have that man—my hero—around to guide me through life forever.
I was in eighth grade. We were performing The Music Man for the school as our first dress-rehearsal performance. I was playing Mrs. Paroo, the crazy old Irish woman, and was about to go out on stage to perform the song “Gary, Indiana” with the son of my grade-school principal. Just getting wind of the news of my “older” father, he turned to me and said, “Wow, so your dad will probably die soon.”
Yep. What a douche, right?
I was almost in tears at the shock of those words. I look back on it now and, while I was in shock and upset, I wasn’t upset at the true meaning of the words. At the time, I just heard cruel and hurtful words, I don’t even think I knew how profound those words were or fully comprehended the impending emptiness that would fill my life years later.
I mean, how could I understand? I was a child; I had only experienced loss twice in my life. I had lost an aunt and uncle, but I was so young when those deaths happened that I couldn’t understand what death truly was.
That moment has followed, even haunted me every day since. That single defining moment.
That was the moment I regret not understanding what true loss was. If I had understood then, would I have done things differently? I like to think I would have spent every moment I could absorbing his knowledge and stories until I could recite them all from memory. I would have not been such a brat at times to my mother and sister, just to avoid him the headaches of the aftermath. I would have tried harder in school and not been such a little terror overall.
But I didn’t understand then; I understand now.
The morning of my father’s death, I had to go to work. I had already missed two weeks and my bosses had been so amazingly understanding that I didn’t feel right taking advantage of any more time away.
That morning I woke up early and went to the ICU to visit him and to tell him I wouldn’t be there all day. Even though he was unconscious and had been intubated a few days prior, I just wanted him to know.
As I held his hand and talked with him, tears streaming down my cheeks, I begged for him to have a plan to make it out of this. The nurse came and said they were going to try to get him to open his eyes or squeeze their hand, so she decreased his drugs and began saying his name. She was firm, loud and direct, trying to wake him for about 30 minutes. This nurse was so kind, I remember seeing so much sadness in her eyes for me, a young twenty-something crying for her daddy to be OK. When she left the room, she looked at me and asked me to continue trying.
When she left I felt so vulnerable. I had been begging for two weeks for him to not give up, but I had been unable to force him to get well. But I tried, because like my father I am stubborn, too stubborn for my own good. I grabbed him by the hand again and pleaded with him to squeeze it, to open his eyes, to not give up yet. That’s when I lost it. All of the fears and regrets from that one defining moment in my life flooded into my brain like a hurricane. I was sobbing. I felt so many words caught in my throat. I wanted to tell him everything in that moment.
It’s odd to me that in that moment, instead of focusing on the unbelievable respect and love I had and still have for my father, I started begging for his forgiveness.
Please don’t misinterpret me; I was a normal teenage girl, with normal teenage mood swings, who got into normal teenage trouble. I mean I managed to always put my own unique stamp on my trouble, but I never did anything that was so horrible to my parents.
However, in that moment I couldn’t think of anything other then each individual mistake I had ever made. Everything tiny little thing I did wrong. All of them flashing before me in my mind. Then my words became word vomit; I was suddenly begging for my father’s forgiveness for lying to him about silly things I did ten years prior. But I couldn’t stop. I was hysterical.
Looking back now, I knew. I knew that this would be my last chance I would ever have to say everything that I had to say to him.
As my words turned into uncontrollable sobs and my breathing became erratic, that’s when I felt it. I felt his tiny little pinky finger moving in my hand. How vulnerable I felt in that moment. I was a little girl all over again holding my daddy’s pinky finger because his hands were too big for me to grasp onto at the time. Here I was being comforted by my father for the last time, when he was the one who needed comforting.
As he moved his smallest finger in my hand, I looked up at him, his eyelids straining to open from the weight of the drugs he had been on. In that moment I saw everything in his eyes. I saw his forgiveness, I saw his pride in his little girl, and most of all I saw his love.
That was the last time I would get to see the beautiful grey-blue eyes that made up the man I admired the most.
It took me another 30 minutes before I left. I kept telling him I had to go but found myself back at his side thanking him for being my father, telling him how much my mother loved him, begging him to fight harder for us.
At noon that day, my phone lit up with a text from my sister, she told me I needed to get to the hospital…that he was dying. After I arrived, I didn’t leave his side until he drew his last breath.
Do I have regrets? Absolutely. I regret a lot of things, but most of them he wiped away in that moment. I was the only one who got a last chance to say goodbye, which I feel like he did because I was the youngest child of six. I got to spend the least amount of time with him. It was his final gift to me in a way. He gave me a clean slate, where there was nothing but love in every memory, even the memories where I wasn’t on my best behavior.
The only regret I have today is that if I could go back to that moment when my eighth-grade self heard those cruel words, I’d probably punch the kid in the face just to teach him a lesson. But I would stop and think. I would start from that moment forward spending as much time absorbing his knowledge as I could.
I will never forget my dad; how could I? He was a storm of a man. He left nothing unaffected in his path. His smile changed people; it made people lighter. I wish I had taken more time with him to listen instead of speak. I would give anything to hear his advice, his stories, and his infectious laughter just one more time.