"My Greatest Teacher"
The change in seasons is inevitable. It happens every year, Time continuing on regardless of objection. As we ahead into September, I’ve had to let go of some expectations and adjust to some big changes happening: one kiddo beginning college, the other starting his sophomore year of high school, finishing up a home remodel project, and preparing for my family to say a final goodbye.
About three weeks ago, after an incredible day in beautiful Slovenia, I got on the phone to FaceTime with my husband. It was nearly midnight my time, and I was exhausted, thinking I’d just do a quick call to say I love you. When he answered, he wasn’t at work, but at his parents’ house. I asked what was going on, and he began to cry. “My dad died.”
When we get to this stage in life, we are forced to learn difficult life lessons. No one is ever ready to lose a parent, and I doubt it will get any easier. But in examining his grief, my husband was able to see the most important things he had learned in life had come from his greatest teacher: his dad.
I am fatherless.
When isolated, it looks like something you expect to see in a film or perhaps in a novel because it’s so true for so many. I was one of the lucky ones - really tremendously lucky if you think about it. I had a father, but that didn’t work out, for a host of reasons not worth mentioning here. But someone else did love me and want me, along with my sister and my mother, and that is the tremendously lucky part. Nobody had to want us, but he did, my Dad.
People say standing in Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon makes you feel powerless; small. I have been one of those people, knowing those places make you feel something… But you know what really makes you feel powerless? Watching your dad die, right in front of your eyes. Right when you are holding his hand. Right beside your mom; his wife.
I had to be strong today. For everyone, even myself, I guess. I had to be the one to tell the doc that my dad did not want to be hooked up to a machine. I had to be the one to tell the ER staff not to fight with all the technology and modern miracles they have at their disposal. I had to be the one to tell them… my dad wants his time to be his time. I had to stick up for my dad as he was dying. I had to be strong.
The doctor was so incredible. Filled with empathy, not just for my dad, but for me and my mom. I shook his hand and thanked him for his kindness. I don’t even remember his name.
I waited with my dad, just the two of us, for the memorial home folks to arrive and take him away. My mom just couldn’t stay in the room a minute longer. I don’t blame her. It was so sudden, and such a shock. Which is ironic if you think about it— a man with stage 4 cancer dying shouldn’t be a shock. The doc said he was showing improvement, wouldn’t give a timeline because it was too hard to tell, he was doing that well. The treatment was helping, prolonging.
I waited because mom could not. I talked with my dad and continued to hold his hand. I cried. The staff was fantastic. I wish I could remember their names— I would send them a card letting them know I will never forget them. I stayed because I wanted that time with my dad, because I’ll never get time with him again.
I never got to take him for a motorcycle ride. I really wanted to, but always felt strange about bringing it up, as though I was only asking because he was dying. So I never told him that I just wanted to take him out on the bike one time before he died.
It’s because of him I’m a motorcycle crazed human. I always liked bikes, but it wasn’t until he got his that I got serious. He actually bought my first one for me. I remember him riding it home. My dad on a crotch rocket! All because he knew it was the one I wanted for my first bike. We worked on it together, cleaning carbs, emptying gas tanks, replacing fuel lines…we even painted it. I learned a lot from my dad, but maybe the greatest gift was to love a motorcycle.
Nah, scratch that. The greatest gift was what I took from him on being a father and husband. Just the good stuff, the stuff that I knew was worthwhile. The stuff that made me take notice, even as a kid, but more as I got older. Like how important it is to make your kids smile and laugh and just enjoy being a kid. Like how a wife is a treasured object and should be treated like royalty. Like how important it is to provide for your family, but just as important to be there for them too. He was my dad and my role model.
He was also a photographer, a Pentax man. I still remember that silver body and black lens. He took pictures of rivers and mountains and my sister and me eating ice cream. I LOVE that my parents kept those photos of us at Multnomah Falls hangin in their hallways for 35 years. I know where I got it from, my love of photography.
He was also a cook, of sorts. He loved his grill. I always remember my dad cooking things when I was little, on certain occasions, and I think that resonated with me from an early age. But it was the special nature of when you see your dad doing something cool, that made it something I wanted to do.
My dad taught me how to fly fish. I remember when Soren and I went camping, and he wanted to try the fly rod— I was thrilled. This was finally my chance to pass on to my son something that my dad passed on to me. I tried to recreate the lessons from my youth with Soren. The instruction of what to look for, what to feel for. Where your eyes go, the line goes. The feel of his hand on mine guiding the cast and starting the rhythms for me to finish. Damn, he was a good teacher when he wanted to be.
My greatest teacher.