My father passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago. As anyone who has experienced loss understands, wrapping your mind around the fact that a person you love is no longer here is far from easy. I’m still learning to cope, but as a writer, I’ve turned, predictably, to writing as a way to survive.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t know me, or my dad. However, it means a lot to me to be able to share a small part of my dad with you, and I hope at least one of the Readers can take a small bit of inspiration or comfort, as I have, from these life lessons my dad taught me.
1. Be a strong, independent woman. Always stand up for yourself and for what you believe in and don’t follow the cookie-cutter mold, soccer mom path. Unless that’s what you really want.
My parents, without ever using the word “feminist” that I can remember, raised me to be a feminist, to accept nothing less than equality. I have fond memories of watching Disney Princess movies with my dad, but also of him buying me “Girls Kick Butt” t-shirts during my tomboy phase and supporting the decision never to wear a dress that I made when I was nine and to become the first professional female football player.
My goals in life have since changed, but my feminist and independent nature has not. My dad never put pressure on me to get married or have kids or buy a house; all he cared about was that I do good in the world and be happy, even if some of my life decisions (like living in Morocco and Colombia) kept him awake with worry at night. So even though my path in life may be less traditional than most, I’m content with the life I lead, and I hope that makes my dad happy.
2. Be encouraging to others.
My dad has always been the most encouraging person I know. When I was a less-than-mediocre soccer or basketball player as a kid, he would go out in the backyard with me and kick the ball around or shoot hoops and help me improve. When I was in high school and wanted to be an interior designer, he never told me to pursue something else (although I did anyway); he encouraged me to draw and learn about the profession. And since beginning my solo travels in 2008, he always told me that what he wanted for me was to be happy.
He never left the country himself, but did his best to understand why traveling is, for me, something I have to do. When I was in Egypt during the 2013 military coup, he called me every day to make sure that I was okay and would say, “Are you sure you don’t want to come home? I’ll buy you the plane ticket.” And I would assure him that I was fine, that I was safe, and he would say, “Okay, just please be careful.” I don’t quite know how much anxiety I caused him, but he trusted my judgment and supported it and I will forever be grateful for that.
3. Be able to take a joke and to laugh at yourself.
Sometimes when my dad would make fun of me and I would get defensive, he would say, in an exaggerated tone of voice, “Geez! I thought you knew how to take a joke!” And I would stick my tongue out or make a face and he would laugh. It was a reminder to not take things too seriously and to have fun.
4. Appreciate music and be able to keep a beat.
My dad introduced me to all the classics, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Ray Charles. We had a VHS of “Yellow Submarine” that we would watch; I was probably the only three-year-old who knew all the words to that song. I can also remember sitting on the floor with my dad near our stereo in the living room when I was little. My dad had this collection of Beach Boys CDs. We would listen to his favorite songs, to “Good Vibrations,” “Surfin USA,” and “Barbara Ann,” and my dad taught me how to listen for the rhythm and how to clap the rhythm and to tap my hands on my legs to keep the beat. Now that I dance, this skill has proven to be essential. And whenever I listen to these artists, I think of my dad.
5. Write. Write for yourself, for others, for your cat, just write if it makes you happy.
Until grad school, I was always too shy to show my creative writing to people, even to my dad. But he was a writer, too, and he understood. He wrote exquisite letters to my mom when they were dating that I have only had the chance to read since his passing. My parents raised me on books, I lived and breathed books as a kid, and both of my parents have always been supportive of my desire to write.
When I was accepted into the M.A. Writing and Publishing program that I’m in now, my dad was so excited for me. When I sent him a link to the program description, he replied, “The program description looks amazing – I’m so jealous!” Right before my dad passed away, I was able to read him a short story that I wrote. I hope that he heard me, because I’m writing for him.
I’ll remember my dad for these memories and for so many others; I only wish we still had the chance to make new memories. I am who I am today because of him. I’ll always miss my dad, but I try to keep in mind the words of Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.”