It was three years ago today, around 4:16 in the morning (yes, 4:16 on 4/16. We really should play that number in the lottery) that my father died in an ICU at Hershey Medical Center here in Pennsylvania. I don’t say “passed away” or “passed on,” or some other tidy little term for the ending of his life, because he didn’t just fade away. He died. Pancreatic cancer got its gnarled, evil hooks into him, and even though he fought it–fought it hard, fought it gracefully, fought it with more strength and class than I can wrap my head around yet–the cancer won. I watched my dad die. I wouldn’t recommend it. It was kind of hard.
I miss him. Every day, I miss him. My dad and I butted heads a lot (any of my family reading this right now probably just snorted their agreement), but my gosh, I loved him. He was my go-to guy for books, for talking about writing, for cooking. I remember what a hard time he had when I decided to turn vegetarian at the age of 12–he’d grown up on farms as a very poor foster kid, working harder than I ever have, slaughtering his own dinner. What was this nonsense about not eating the damn hamburger sitting on my plate?–but within years he was digging up recipes for tofu and urging me to try this stuff called Quorn he’d heard about as a meat substitute (Bless my dad’s heart, but Quorn is gross. I tried it, for him, but uhh). When he died, I felt like an extension of me just kind of fell off the planet. Not a good feeling, that.
Now, three years later, his first granddaughter Saoirse has entered the “Look at me!” stage. “Look at me, Mom!” she calls out as she does jumping jacks in the living room. “Look at me, Dad!” we hear, as she climbs up the ladder to her swing set. And I’ve realized now, as the children are getting older–as I’m fully and completely becoming an actual grown-up parent–is that the “Look at me!” stage never really ends. I see how well the girls behave while out shopping, and I think, Look at this, Dad! Look what I can do. I make a chocolate and wine beef stew (gagging all the while, mind you) for a Sunday night meal, and think, Man, Dad would’ve loved this. I write these very words and wonder what he’d think of them.
It doesn’t end, does it, that desire to make the people you love proud? I think Molly Wizenberg said it best in her memoir A Homemade Life, regarding her own father’s death from cancer: He could have taught me a lot of things,” she wrote. “We’d hardly begun.” Tomorrow we’ll take the girls to Arlington to visit the grave of a grandfather they’ll never know. It would’ve been fun, seeing the girls climb all over him. He’d be beside himself that I was packing away filet mignon and cheesesteaks when I was pregnant. And I seriously have a list of books that I wish–wish!–I could get him to read. It’s just, I haven’t gotten used to him being gone yet, and honestly, I don’t really want to. Because if I get used to him being gone, then that means that part of me is sort of lost, or not cemented, somehow. And I still need him here, in this world, with me, even if all I have left is a memory. Look at me, Dad. Look what I can do.