Yesterday was February 12, the 15th anniversary of my dad’s death. It’s hard to believe my dad, my very smart and big-voiced dad, hasn’t been around for 15 years. Fifteen years ago at this time, my whole world was altered. Fifteen years ago, my world had always been one way and then suddenly without notice it was a completely different world that I’d have to learn to navigate without my dad’s expertise, numerous opinions, humor, or lectures.
And in this world that I’ve grown accustomed to, that I have learned to navigate without my father’s help, I am full of darkness and anger right now. You guys know how emo I’ve been lately? Oh, ha. Forget that. No. No, this place I’m in right now is way worse. Way, way worse. Maybe later this weekend or week I’ll come back and share exactly why. As foreshadowing, I’ll tell you that currently I’m trying to decide if I should start publishing some of my stalker files here…or if I should just write a whole entire memoir titled The Stalker Files. And I’m considering do so because I’ve researched it, and I actually don’t think my stalker can come after me legally, because well. I have so much hard evidence that he did it, there’s not a whole lot he can do to me now. And in addition to all THAT, now I know and have documentation about his private Twitter activities as well – publicly, he’s “reformed” and “getting better.” Privately. Whoa. What a vile, twisted, vindictive, sick little prick. Here I’ve been, feeling scared and creeped out by him but also bad about how I handled the ending of that “friendship,” struggling with pulled heart strings with his “I’m trying, I’m hurting!” emails, and the whole time – THE WHOLE TIME – he was nothing more than a creepy, abusive internet troll at best, and a derelict, unhinged sociopath at worst. In fact, had I the money? I’d probably hire a lawyer right now and slap a gigantic lawsuit on him for intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation of character. At the very least he’d get a cease and desist letter via certified mail. If I sued, don’t know that I’d win, but scaring the holy fucking shit out of him would be awesome. So, so awesome. Let HIM see how it feels to have the holy fucking shit scared out of you. But by somebody who’s sane and genuinely kind, who backs up her words with actions, and actually knows the difference between right and wrong, the truth and a lie. Who has the law on her side.
Yeah. I’m in a really, really bad place right now.
However. Instead of me brooding about all that (AGAIN), can I just tell you some stories about my dad? Wouldn’t reading some stories about a REAL good guy be far nicer than having to read a lot of disgusting internet creep bad guy stuff again? I say we head towards the Light. In honor of my dad, let’s call it the Coors Light:
My dad was a good man. He drank too much. He occasionally yelled too much. He liked to tease but couldn’t always take it. But he was honest, loyal, funny, smart, a good storyteller, and surprisingly open-minded for someone with traditionally conservative values from a traditionally conservative family. I loved my dad’s laugh and sneeze. When he sneezed, my brother and I would often collapse in giggles because it always sounded like he was saying “Bullshit!”
One of my dad’s greatest mystery bildungsroman tales I remember was the story I like to call “Papa Joe and the Weird Neighbor,” the one wherein my 12 year old dad went to a bachelor neighbor’s house one afternoon to deliver something the neighbor had ordered. When the man opened the door, he was wearing a short smoking jacket…and nothing else. Like, his junk was visible. And it was, uh…you know. So my dad, 12 years old, didn’t really get what was going on, he just knew this guy was WEIRD. He went home and told my grandfather about it. When he finished, my grandfather, who everyone called “Papa Joe,” didn’t say a word, just got up and left the house. Everyone assumed to the bar for a strong drink.
Later, my grandfather had to go to the neighbor’s house because he was on Lake Ariel, PA’s volunteer fire squad and the dude’s house was burning to the ground. My dad and the other neighborhood kids ran over to watch the show, and my dad said he remembered standing next to my grandfather and the neighbor, who was just helplessly watching all of his worldly possessions burn. And my grandfather quietly said something along the lines of “what goes around comes around.” And my 12 year old dad suddenly understood my grandfather had NOT gone to the bar that night for a strong drink; he’d marched over the neighbor’s house and spoke words no one will ever know except Papa Joe and the Weird Neighbor. Also, no one will ever know how or why the neighbor’s house actually caught fire. I mean, Papa Joe was a quiet man, an honest man, a stern and gruff man. Basically what I’m telling you is my grandfather was Don Corleone but on the right side of the law. Maybe not with child molesters, though. (Later, when I was 4 or 5 and living in Greencastle, PA, two teenage boys who lived across the street from us took me behind a neighbor’s shed and tried to get me to pull my pants down. “Sorry, guys!” I remember saying, “I have to ask my mommy first!” And I ran off to ask my mommy if I could pull my panties down for the 2 nice boys across the street. And my dad got up and left the house to pay a visit across the street, and those 2 boys never even looked at me again.)
One of my dad’s favorite games to play with us was a game he made up and called “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits” in which we (with our bare hands) gave him a shave and a hair cut and he in turn gave us two bits, aka invisible coins. He also invented the game called “Feet Walking,” in which he would lie on the floor next to our couch on his stomach, and my little brother and I would take turns standing on the couch and stepping down onto his back, walk around a bit, and then step off, back up onto the couch, and then back onto his back. I think in some spas they charge upwards of $80 an hour for this. My dad just let us keep walking up and down his back and our payment was that we got to, literally, walk all over our dad.
Eventually, we got too big to continue “Feet Walking,” but I think I was about 14 when I finally had to hurt my dad’s feelings and tell him it was time for us to lay “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits” to rest…oh, and also: I was too old to call him Daddy, so he’d be just “Dad” from now on. Little girls grow up, daddies long to keep them little.
My most treasured possession is the card my dad wrote me (my mom directing) for my high school graduation. Most of the card he did on his own – he wrote about how he hoped I’d do something important with my life, and make the world a better place than he and his generation did. He wrote about how proud he was of me, that I had made it all the way through 12th grade and I was prepared to do great things. Then my mom encouraged him to sign it Love, Dad. Because he’d just signed it Dad on the first draft. But by the final draft, I got a full I love you, Dad at the bottom of the card. And that’s why this is my most treasured possession. My dad swallowed his fear of emotional closeness and showed his love.
A few days after he died, his boss brought dinner to our house. My mom started to introduce us to her and she immediately stopped her and said, “Oh, I already know exactly who all of you are. He had your pictures plastered all over his office and you were all he ever talked about. I know that Chad works for Company X, and has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do…and I know that Amy speaks fluent Spanish and is great with kids and writing. I got to know him through hearing stories about all of you – you were the most important parts of him.”
My dad loved history and beer. He loved politics and arguing. He was a fan of Reagan but I’m pretty sure he’d have hated Donald Trump. He thought the world of Colin Powell. He had a really deep sense of justice; he fought in the Vietnam War, and when he went in as a 1st Lieutenant and graduate of Pennsylvania Military College, he went into war thinking this would be his life’s career. He’d been raised on World War 2 tales, sitting at the feet of his father and uncles, listening to them talk about their big navy battles, about how war was hell but if your government said it was right, then it was right. My dad worked in Reconnaissance during Vietnam – he went up in helicopters with Russian, Vietnamese, French, Italian interpreters, and they’d intercept the enemy communications, get them translated, and then my dad’s job was to mix up the signals so they couldn’t talk on that frequency again.
But he also worked closely with the people running the war, and so he got to see how government really operates. How political it is, and how expendable people are to them. And he slowly started to understand that war is always hell, but governments aren’t always right. At least not in Vietnam. (Later, during the first Gulf War, my dad and I would disagree – I wanted peace on earth at all costs, but my dad thought Gulf War 1 was necessary, that Saddam Hussein was evil, and if we didn’t take him out he’d come back to haunt us. Seven months after my dad’s death, he kind of did. But only because my dad voted for George “I have daddy issues and I need a good excuse to finish the job my dad didn’t oh, look! a bunch of Saudi crazies drove some planes into the World Trade Center. Hey! Let’s go kill Saddam Hussein!!” Bush#2 and the Supreme Court elected him to office.) (Sorry, my liberal is showing. My point is: my dad was a raging conservative but had the common sense of a liberal.) (i’m joking.) (mostly.)
At any rate, my dad loved all things military. But he got disillusioned because of Vietnam and ended up working in manufacturing for his whole life. My dad quit a job working for Mobile Oil Company in the 70s because they were tricking people into signing away their life savings. My dad told the truth while working for another company while a coworker lied and my dad got demoted and that coworker was promoted to my dad’s position. My dad did what was right, even when everyone else did the wrong thing. One time, my dad accidentally broke a neighbor’s mailbox while he and I were delivering neighborhood fliers. I watched him struggle with what to do – drive off? or go up, knock on the door, and let them know what he did? And I remember, at just 10 years old, knowing my dad was going to go up to the door and knock. And that’s exactly what he did, and when he got back in the car, he made sure I knew why he’d done the honest thing.
My dad embodied the very meaning of integrity, and I live my own life trying to be like him. My dad was a good guy, with a big heart, and when it stopped the world lost a complicated, angry man who drank too much and it also lost someone who told funny jokes and kept his promises and didn’t say things he didn’t mean.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be in another relationship ever again. But if I am, I think I will always look for my dad. And when I run into bad guys who insist they are good guys, I’ll remember the story my dad told me about what being a soldier in an active war zone is like:
One day, my dad and some of his Army buddies had just finished lunch at an American burger joint in…somewhere in Vietnam. As they were just walking outside, a teenage boy walked into the joint, bumping into my dad as they passed. My dad and his friends walked down the road, but my dad couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something not quite right about the boy. They were a few thousand feet down the road from the burger place when my dad finally told his friends they needed to go back and check the little boy – something was off. Just as they all turned around to go back, there was an explosion in the restaurant, and it killed several soldiers and private citizens. The boy had had a bomb strapped to him.
You meet people every day. I think most people are very good and honest and exactly who and what they say they are. And then sometimes you meet teenage boys with secret bombs strapped to them. Trust your instincts, is what my dad told me. Always listen to your gut – if you feel something’s off, then something’s off.
Oh, wait! Can I tell one more story? (Maybe two.) At my dad’s viewing here in Georgia (on Valentine’s Day no less), I remember I met many weird people my dad worked with, but also Marcus. Marcus was a big black guy my dad used to be so frustrated with. Marcus worked nights with my dad and was also a manager, but he’d just graduated from college so he was very young. And Marcus used to fall asleep on the job (in fairness to Marcus, it WAS 3 am). And when Marcus fell asleep, he’d do it at his desk in his office, but the problem was Marcus’s office had glass window walls so all the factory workers had to watch their boss sleep while they worked. My dad told him how to handle that (go nap in your car with a little alarm clock) but Marcus refused to listen. Finally, one day, my dad lost it and had a Real Talk with Marcus: “you’re young, you’re black, you’re overweight, and these people have stereotypes. Go. Sleep. In. Your. Car. Or they’re going to have you fired.” When my dad told me that story, I was horrified. Dad! You can’t tell black guys about white guys’ stereotypes of them. My dad had no social filter.
But then, at my dad’s viewing, this 7 foot, overweight black guy with a huge afro came up to me, tears streaming down his face. He asked if he could give me a hug and I said yes, because I immediately knew: this is Marcus. And it was. And Marcus bent down and hugged me for a really long hug, and while he hugged me he told me he loved my dad a lot (me too, Marcus). And that he knew he made my dad frustrated a lot (me too, Marcus) and hated it when my dad lost his temper (me too, Marcus). And that he’d miss my dad’s long long lectures about everything a lot (me too, Marcus). And that my dad had taught him a lot (me too, Marcus).
Later, while I was sitting with my friend Amelia, waiting to go home, I knew my dad was okay. I’d been worried about him since finding his body – where’d my dad go? was he scared? was he alone? was he sad? confused? Amelia was talking about something I don’t remember now, but I suddenly felt my dad next to me. And what I felt was my dad saying (without words but still saying): “and you make sure you keep her. that’s a good friend.” And I still have Amelia, and she is a good friend. (Hi Amelia! I love you!) (Amelia also told me the difference between my dad’s demons and her dad’s demons was that God and Satan weren’t fighting over who was going to have to get my father for all eternity.)
That was my dad. Practical, honest Vietnam veteran with some anger issues and a love of lectures. A natural storyteller and lover of research before there was Google. Hater of gushy emotional displays, lover of war movies. Over spender. Closet liberal but mostly conservative Republican. Cigar smoker with an inability to say no to a bar and a beer. Practitioner of integrity. Honest good guy. Really good guy.
They don’t make them like my dad anymore. I really miss him. A lot.