Happy Birthday, Dad!
My dad really was my best friend and the best life teacher ever.
I give 50% credit to Bill for how I turned out!
He gave me my sense of humor.
He taught me how to be kind to people.
He taught me how to travel first-class. He taught me how to use money wisely. He taught me to laugh at myself.
He taught me how to remember where I parked the car; to have my key out, and to stay alert to my surroundings. He taught me to play Frisbee in the ocean. He bought me my first briefcase when I graduated from SMU. He gave in and bought me the dumbest sports car ever: A Fiero.
In business, he taught me about a strong work ethic & showed me how to deliver excellent customer service.
He got me into crossword puzzles in my early 20's and we'd do the puzzles every morning while having coffee together before leaving for the office. He was brutally honest with me and the only person I'd trust to tell me when I was looking good or needed to go on a diet! (By the same token, when I was borderline anorexic between high school and starting college, it was Dad who finally got me to eat.)
Well, I lost my great friend in 2007. It was sudden, unexpected, and shocking. We came to learn he'd been living on borrowed time; his heart was not strong enough to sustain him, even with a pacemaker.
While I was devastated that he was gone, I was also at peace with the loss. I knew it was coming. You see, for a few months prior, my dad had really been struggling with his mortality. I know this because I was spending a lot of time with him and I could see the fear in his eyes as he dealt with one health issue after another towards the end.
I can still vividly recall a day not long before he died:
He'd been in rehab after a surgery and he was ready to come home. It was on a Saturday and I went to sign him out and bring him home. The weather was warm and I had the top down on the convertible which he enjoyed immensely. Stopped at the pharmacy and then on to his home, where we got him settled and comfortable.
I went out back to swim laps and halfway through, I looked up and found Dad watching me pensively. He didn't look right. In fact, he looked scared. I looked straight in his eyes and said "You don't feel right, do you?" He said, "No.". I said, "Do you want to go back to the hospital?". He said, "Yes".
I called 911 and had the paramedics at the house quickly. As usual, when they arrived, they put dad on a stretcher and took him to the back of the ambulance where they conduct triage to gauge imminent danger before they take off to the ER. It was during this time that I was with him and we just looked at each other and I knew. And he knew I knew.
Rather than becoming afraid, a sense of peace washed over me and I knew that if I lost him right then, it would be okay. I knew he'd been struggling with his mortality for a while. For a few months prior, after having been in and out of the hospital, he'd call me early in the morning to come over to the house. The calls started coming earlier and earlier in the morning. But, it didn't matter. I lived so close to my parents and would hop in the car (dirty hair; don't care) to drive over and just "be" with my dad for a couple of hours until my mom meandered into the kitchen.
I learned an important lesson about being available for people when they need you because of my dad. And, I know it's part of the reason I was okay when he died: I was THERE for him.
Didn't matter if I "had work to do".
Didn't matter if I was tired.
Didn't matter if I was dressed and pretty.
All that mattered was that he called to say "Come over." And so I did. Every single time. No matter what.
Bill and I had some of our richest conversations before he died, thankfully. All those early mornings together I got him to talk philosophy about about family, life, God, integrity, and experiences. He told me incredible tales about HIS life, HIS experiences, HIS memories. I absorbed it all gratefully and I thank him so much for letting me see the "real" him.
While I don't have my father with me any longer, he's still with me every day. I find him in my thoughts and actions. As I've had health issues arise this past year, my empathy for him has deepened and now I get concerned about my own siblings and their health and well-being. And, you know how they say daughters marry their fathers? Guess what. It's true! I really did marry my dad when I married Gary and as each year passes, I see it more and more. That's a GIFT.
Here's the big takeaway from this story:
If you're lucky enough to still have either of your parents, why you're the luckiest person in the world! Spend time with them, no matter what, even if they drive you nuts. (Older people have to drive you nuts; it's in their playbook!)
When the call comes, don't wait for it to be the one saying they're gone. Spend time with them. Get them to share their life stories with you. The sense of peace you'll have once they are gone is priceless and will ensure you're able to continue on with a smile in your heart because you were THERE!