Monday, November 13, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad (Intensity Warning)

Had he lived, Dad would have celebrated his 70th birthday on Wednesday.

And, on Wednesday, I hope to post a collection of things I would want Dad to know about some joyous things he missed this year.

But this post is insisting on emerging first.

I feel so fortunate that I had no unfinished business with Dad. I had a couple of curiosity questions about his relationship with Mom, but they were trivial. I did want to ask him about his transition from agnostic, near-atheist to devout Catholic, but I got that chance and then some in my first semester of seminary and in the last days of his life.

But Dad, it seems, had some unfinished business with me. My father's father died in a one-car crash in the days before safety belts when my father was 21. The hole that left in my father's heart was noticeable. He worried for some time that he was not destined to live beyond his father's 44 years. And then, when he had long past that benchmark, he sometimes lamented that he did not have a role model for growing old. I was always aware of the looming absence of my father's father, but I don't think I knew to label it as Dad's grief. And, though I had my father in my life for 45 years, I understand, now, that empty place, that gnawing longing in his heart. And I wish I could tell him so. I wish I could tell him that I understand him better now than ever. But I also know that his wish for me would be that I never have reason to understand.

I know what a gift and what a blessing it was to have my father in my life in so many meaningful ways for so long. I also know that it was a gift to get to talk to him often between his diagnosis last October and his surgery last December. And I know what a precious, precious gift it was on his last day of life to get to see his smile and feel his love for me and tell him goodbye, even though I thought I was only leaving for the airport. That bedside goodbye is indelibly etched in the fabric of my being. It was his final living gift to me.

Several of my seminary friends have lost their fathers, all but one at much younger ages than I lost mine. I try to be careful with my grief in their presence. But one, this past week, took in my unspoken grief and said: I wish I had had a Dad like that. And I know it was a gift. And I'm glad it's a gift I was able to appreciate with words and love and hugs in life.

One of the last things Dad did for me was edit/proofread a complex writing assignment I was working on for Hebrew Bible class. His surgery was delayed for four days, and I chose to stay in Texas with Mom and Dad rather than travel home. It was a luxurious stretch of time to just be with one another. We wrapped Christmas presents together, we went to church together, we watched a really silly movie, we talked about books and faith and things I no longer recall. He had good questions on my paper, and good edits. He was amazed at the depth of knowledge and study and complex exposition required for the paper. He as much as said it was over his head, but in a way that challenged him to ask me questions so he could learn more. The hardest thing I will do this semester will be to write a similar paper for that same professor, because I won't be able to write it without thinking of what a tangible presence Dad was in my life as I wrote last year's paper.

And now I need to write a worship service celebrating communion. And it needs to be ready to be given on Thursday. And I wonder if I even looked at the dates when I signed up for Nov. 16. What made me think I'd be in any shape to celebrate anything much less my first communion?

So, I'm trying to channel's Dad's coaching voice. He never coached me in anything, but he often drew on advice he had gotten from Texas high school football coaches when he thought I needed motivation. When either my brother or I was angstifying over starting some task, Dad would say: Do your best, and then just say to Hell with it. Kind of a curious motivator to start working on a communion service, but I'll give it a try.

He was also fond of this choice coaching nugget: If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

molly said...

I think it's a perfect time to celebrate your first communion. And remember (really) that the grace comes in our broken pieces.

You'll rock.