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My dad passed away.

Dad passed away last night. He’d been fighting cancer for six years.

Life is going to change a lot even if I think it won’t. He was a complicated man who never truly recovered from the loss of his wife. When mom died twenty-one years ago, we lost our family despite our best efforts to keep it. He loved his family because we were everything he never had as a child.

We were a 1970s family. Dad was a lineman. Mom raised us kids. We never lacked anything because of how hard they worked. I learned by watching, even if it took me years to understand what real commitment to a family means.

I’ve thought, over the years, about the good things that are  part of me. He taught me how to be good to animals, how to interact with the natural world, and about loyalty and the value of work.

Losing him means being honest about a lot of difficult things. My own age. Our relationship. Wanting a family that is gone. Wishing for a life that can’t come back. Thinking of him as a person, and not a personification. Being thankful, even when I miss him. With each passing hour today, there’s a lot more hurt. I miss him. I miss my family. I don’t know how to explain wanting something that’s gone for good.

You can think you’re ready for things, but you’re not ready. You’re never ready. I miss him today, but I think I’ll miss a lot more things tomorrow, and beyond.

When books make you cry.

It can take seconds, but books have an emotional impact well beyond their weight. I get up, walk from the living room, see a hardback version of a favorite book— I’ve left it out from sorting my shelf. 

It’s filled with poems about a war (doesn’t matter which one, the truths are all the same, merely different uniforms). I flip it open, read. I sit down. I read. I think of the losses, and what the author was feeling. I’m not sure I can know, but I can try. I think of family funerals, and rain. I think of the chill of a grave and the life left over, forced to live in a place not of my own choosing where there’s enough pain that I am compelled to write the poem I hold in my hands. The book creaks as I close it, and I notice that there’s glue on the back from an old sticker.

The book has traveled, just like me. The poem is one year older than me. The pain is raw as the day it was written. I don’t know the author. Should I go type my own words now, freshly shorn by the ragged edge of a single page– the scent of someone else’s blood funneled into my own narrative? It feels like theft, kind of, but then writers are emotional vampires, building stories from borrowed hurt and joy.

I wonder if the author is still alive, and then decide I don’t want to know. They are alive to me, as certainly as if they were standing next to me, reading their poem and watching from the corner of their eye, just to make sure I’m listening.

“What are we watching?” I ask my son, averting my eyes. He’s nine, and I’m not sure I can explain how second hand pain works. Not at this age, and not yet. Maybe someday he will read something I’ve written and ask how someone like me could write something so bleak, and then we can discuss what it means to be an adult, but not right now. I look at the television and think of muddy fields and missing sons, and who wrote it down so that I could be thankful for the room around me, free of rain and fear.

Happy Birthday, Son. Love, Dad.

Our son Teddy turns nine today. His birthday is the culmination of a series of surprises, that include (but are not limited to):

Becoming a dad at forty, when my entire life had been spent in service to myself, not others.

The surreal experience of my bride and I being sent home with a live human being in our red Mustang, and wondering, “What the hell do we do now?”

Discovering that, for the first few months, he didn’t do very much; sort of like an exceptionally cute inchworm with toes.

Watching him grow. Alarmingly fast. Like, “Your four year old will need you to help him shave soon.” That kind of fast. Missy is very tall. I am tall. We’re all tall. Teddy is really tall. He’s five feet tall, with no end in sight.

Learning that kids tend to run around naked. A lot.

Finding out that due dates for babies are a “serving suggestion”, as he arrived six weeks early, when I had the entire bathroom ripped out and our toilet sitting over a crawlspace. It had quite the frontier feel, but with 85% more possums and raccoons.

Watching him develop a love for kittens and puppies as naturally as if it were his calling.

Seeing the first time he told a joke, and it was funny.

Holding hands with him as we walk, and wondering if I will ever be more needed (or happy) in my life than in that moment.

Seeing his mother in him, as well as his grandmother, and me, and a line of wonderful people who all comprise part of him; but knowing that he is utterly unique.

Wondering who he will become, but also fearing the passage of time.

Standing quietly in the kitchen with my wife, talking about him in hushed tones because he amazes us.

Feeling my purpose realized, fully and with complete joy, and being thankful that I get to see him grow.

Happy birthday, Teddy. You are the best thing under the sun. We love you.