Missing My Dad

This is an essay I had published in the Washington Post June 21, 2004 to honor my dad on Father’s Day.  

It’s as relevant today as it was then…

When I was 8 years old, I found a small black-and-white photograph of my dad on the kitchen table.

I picked it up and stared at it for the longest time.

After a heartfelt sigh, I said, “Oh, he’s a beautiful man.”

That seemed to sum up my complete adoration of him.

I’m sure that by any worldly standard, he was just an average, small-town man.

He owned a dairy and was known as the town milkman.

He knew everyone in town and they knew him.

He delivered the school milk, and I was always so proud to point out that he was my dad.

He was a quiet man and only said what needed to be said.

He never felt a need to fill empty spaces with empty words.

There were times when that bothered me.

I was sure his head was full of profound thoughts.

I wanted to know them all.

He had a few simple philosophies that governed his life.

Pay yourself first, then pay everyone else.

When you build up a little savings,

put some in the stock market and some in the bank.

If you gamble,

only risk what you can afford to lose,

and never expect to win.

He dropped out of high school during his senior year

because his father had a heart attack and needed help with the dairy.

After his dad died, he felt obligated to keep the business going.

He left his own dreams behind.

He wanted to own a fishing lodge

and take tourists on fly fishing trips to his favorite, secret holes.

He was a master fly fisherman.

No one knew the local mountains and rivers better.

He gave little advice.

So when he doled it out I paid close attention.

When I went to college, I majored in business because it was practical.

He asked whether I liked it.

I said it was boring.

Study what you love or you’ll never be happy, he told me.

He was right.

I changed my major to journalism and never regretted it.

He had other good advice, too, like

never buy a Chevy truck because they’re for sissies,

and never buy a used car because you’re just buying someone else’s problem.

Pay your bills.

Never lie and never try to be someone you’re not.

He hated phony people and hypocrites most of all.

I remember when he took my mom to see John Wayne in the movie The Cowboys.

When they came home,

she couldn’t wait to tell us that Dad actually laughed out loud in the movie.

We couldn’t believe it.

He was too reserved to really laugh out loud.

To prove it she took us all back to the theater with them to see the movie.

There was a scene when John Wayne taunted a stuttering boy until he was so mad

that he unleashed a stutter-less string of obscenities.

And then it happened:

Dad laughed out loud.

It was a memory for the family history books.

19  years ago my dad died of a heart attack.

He was only 57 years old.

His advice still runs through my head and influences my life.

I have never bought a Chevy truck and I only bought used cars while I was in college.

I pay my bills, invest in the stock market, and always try to be honest.

I still yearn for his straight talk,

his way of cutting to the core and saying only what needs to be said,

and nothing more.

These 19 years of his pure silence have been deafening.

The shock of his sudden death has worn off.

The grief is gone.

The mourning is over.

But the missing him never stops.

When I moved away from home,

I rarely talked to him on Father’s Day

because he was always fishing.

Even though I knew he wouldn’t be home, I’d still call.

I needed him to know I was thinking of him.

I adore him as much today as I did when I was a little girl looking at that picture of him.

Nineteen years have come and gone;

yet each year, on Father’s Day,

I still feel like I need to let him know

I’m thinking of him.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Comments

  1. A gorgeous, touching tribute, rich with details that nudge each of us to seek out and appreciate the traits of our own father.

  2. Sara Peterson says:

    I love this piece because it expresses so many of my own feelings about my dad. He too, was gone in an instant (although due to an accident, not a heart attack) and although it has been nearly 39 years I still miss him so much. He was quiet, strong, and loving and just the best father a girl could wish for. Thanks for sharing so beautifully.

  3. What a sweet tribute. Funny, in my head I picture him as always laughing. I think I must have home video of him laughing. I’ll have to look. I never knew how hard it was to lose a parent until Mom died. Thanks for the post.

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