Maybe there’s some magic associated with Dad because I lost him so early. But, I find myself often thinking about what he would say or do during the events of my life that continue to unfold – and I assume, or maybe I comfort myself, thinking he was the man I always saw him to be.
Sure. He had faults I’ll never know about. I’m sure that as I became a more whole individual, I would have found fault with his logic or his perspective throughout life. I know, for a fact, there were parts of his personality that were frustrating, irritating…not perfect.
Dad wasn’t perfect.
He was good. He was a good person. He did good for others. He saw people. He loved people. And he often surprised people with quiet thoughtfulness. He was a savior. He was a confidant. He was a vigilante for your individuality in the middle of the night. He always wanted to curate an experience.
He also heavily critiqued the way I did random things. Like the way I ate ice cream or the way I packed a suitcase. He believed every moment a teaching moment, sometimes to a fault. He, sometimes, tried to push against the wilder parts of me. While simultaneously letting me be and championing my right to choice. But, he never missed an opportunity to tell me how he thought I looked best in a long skirt, with my hair straight and parted down the middle.
Sometimes he unintentionally made me feel self conscious about my weight. Sometimes he shadowboxed a world that tried to force me to fit a standard.
He yelled. He heavily sighed. He went for angry drives and huffy walks.
But he also walked with me and told me about his life in honest ways. He sat me down to explain what was happening to my grandmother in the end stages of her battle with leukemia. He showed me, in a million tiny ways, how a person loves their partner. When he challenged Mom. Or uplifted Mom. Or sheltered Mom. Or dreamily looked at Mom.
He was serious.
Except when he’d flop on top of us in the morning in hotel rooms because he always woke up before the rest of us and got bored with the continental breakfast. Or the handful of times he randomly, and for no known reason, would moon us as he walked away just to hear mom yell “Cliff!”
He wore plaid and Hawaiian shirts. He sat in a recliner. He watched football.
He bought the books David and I read for school to read them with us and give us someone to discuss them with. He bought his own trombone when I took up playing to practice along with me. He walked me slowly through museums discussing the intricate beauty of art.
He silently appreciated rolling fields with me, while mom and David fell asleep in the back of the family van on road trips. He kicked open my door on Saturday mornings said, “Get up!” and then had me do some kind of manual labor if he thought I was sleeping too long.
He pushed me to get a black belt in WTA Tae Kwon Do from Master K.H. Kim when I was 12 years old. He held the boards I did a flying side kick to break at my testing.
He danced at random.
He was impatient.
He was a fucking incredible actor. Simply breathtaking.
He was a napkin poet.
Dad’s illness was difficult. It was difficult for him to experience and difficult for me, at 18, to watch. He lost his ability to communicate. He eventually lost his ability to read. He lost his ability to meet life with pragmatic logic.
From the moment he was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, a fear that I’d never felt before crept into my heart.
Ten months from that day, I listened to Dad’s heartbeat stop.
About three months before that, we were sitting and watching TV together while mom was at work, and he had a mild seizure (something that occured occasionally as a result of multiple brain surgeries). These presented as Dad getting stuck on a word or sound.
I kneeled in front of him and just kept telling him it was okay. But I remember he looked so scared. No. Not scared. He looked so emabrassed. And it broke my heart.
Later that night, when Mom was home, I went to my room and cried. We were often crying in corners in some feeble attempt to keep it from Dad. But as I lay there crying, a knock came on the door.
I opened it. And there was Dad.
“I love you.”
He wrapped his arms around me. And I cried. And he cried. In the doorway of my bedroom my dad held me close for as long as we both needed. I think a part of us stayed right there. Forever. I think that was our real goodbye.
The more distance between Dad’s death and present time, the pedestal we often build for lost loved ones, lowers more and more. And I think that’s a good thing. Because I want to remember him as a human being. A person with the same complications and inner life that anybody else has. A person with flawed opinions, who made mistakes and didn’t always apologize for them.
But, even after all these years, I still know he was a marvel. He was one of the good ones. He made the world better. He made my world better. He lived his life with art and empathy and strength and focus. And blamed his farts on the dog. And I don’t want to ever forget a single one of those details.
That fear that entered my heart all those years ago has never really left. I can’t even really say its lessened. It’s more accurate to say it became a part of me. Not to say that I am a fearful person. Just to say that particular fear shaped me and influenced me. It led me to some of my biggest mistakes and some of my greatest triumphs. It colors the way I parent my children and the way I love my husband. I don’t hate it. I don’t wish it wasn’t there. I understand it. And keep it in check as often as possible.
Dad lives on in a thousand ways. In the way I critique Brau’s use of a knife. In the way I meet Brau’s philosophical questions with honesty. In the way I twirl Devona and toss her in the air. In the way I surprise my husband with tiny gifts that let him know I see him. In the way I continue to educate myself. In the way I constantly strive to curate moments.
He lives on in the way my brother devours books and meets emotionally charged moments with compassionate logic. In the way David can simultaneously champion my heart and point out an alternate perspective. In the way he meets surprises with an outward sense of calm and automatic focus on action steps.
He lives on in Mom. Because a part of his heart lives in hers and always will.
In my children. Because he lives on in me.
And in the physical things he left behind. A massive collection of genealogical research. Journals. Pictures. Essays and theoretical dissertations. Notes in the margins of scripts. And a recipe or two.
Cliff’s BBQ Sauce
- 2 C bottled BBQ sauce (Cookies Original or Sweet Baby Rays)
- 1/4 C apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 C soy sauce
- 1/2 C orange marmalade
- 2 T fresh orange juice
- 2 tsp liquid smoke
- 1 heaping T brown sugar
- Meat Rub: Garlic salt, pepper, paprika in equal parts sprinkled liberally all over.
- Stirrin’ spoon
- Various measuring cups and spoons
- Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit at least 1 hour (or overnight) to combine.
- Use how you would any other BBQ sauce – spread on meat for grilling and use as additional sauce after.
- This would be GREAT with any meat you toss and slow cook over a fire. Or an excellent sauce for crockpot meatballs or lil’ weenies.