The ‘Dad of Dads’

June 15, 2013

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I used to look forward to Father’s Day. We’d always cook hot dogs because they were your favorite, we’d usually end up at a pool or lake somewhere because June is always hot in Texas, and since it’s too hot to play football (your favorite sport) we would usually end up watching one of your favorite movies – like “The Sting” or something funny like that.

Sometimes, for a special treat, you’d do your “Cowardly Lion” impression and sing, “If I Were King of the Forest.” I always loved that.

When I was little, I’d make you homemade cards out of construction paper and glue and glitter. You said you loved them and would put them on the fridge or take them to the office.

When I was a little older, I’d make you cookies or a cake that you’d always say was delicious, even if the cookies were a little too done or the cake was a little too dry.

And then there was the year I learned to play “The Entertainer” on the piano. You never corrected me on tempo or winced at an errant note. You simply beamed with pride, and I was on top of the world.

One year, I’d saved enough to buy you a tie with little Mickey Mouse ears on it from the Disney store – and you wore it proudly even when your coworkers made fun of you.

LAUGHS AND HUGS

Father’s Days were always relaxed and fun with lots of laughter and hugs – and late afternoon naps after we got to go swimming.

One Father’s Day several years ago, I got you a shirt that had the words “Dad of Dads” embroidered on it – and you loved it and wore it often. It made me so proud that you really liked it. You wore it again on your birthday in August. I didn’t know then that it would be your last Father’s Day and birthday with us.

A thief named “Cancer” crept into our lives without anyone realizing it and stole you from us. During those days, you liked to wear your “Dad of Dads” shirt to chemo and radiation treatments. Once the thief had invaded, we only had about 100 days left with you.

Since losing you, I admit I’ve pretty much avoided Father’s Day. I don’t want to see anyone or go to church, because it really hurts quite deeply, and I cannot control my tears.

I walk past the Father’s Day cards at the store, and change the radio or TV channel when Father’s Day commercials come on. I usually sleep in on that Sunday and try, unsuccessfully, to pretend it is just another day.

I go with mom to the cemetery in the afternoon and take flowers, an American flag, a box of Kleenex, and an aspirin or two. Mom takes it particularly hard. We hold each other together quite a bit on Father’s Day. We hold each other together most every day. Your absence is quite a gaping hole, actually – impossible to fill.

FEEL YOUR PRESENCE

For the last couple of years, mom and I have made hot dogs and watched “The Sting.” I can close my eyes and hear you laughing at “The Great Henry Gondorff.”

Mom and I are trying to make new memories together. You’re still with us, of course, just smiling at us from a picture on the wall. We can feel your larger-than-life presence with us always. And I’m sure Father’s Day in heaven is a sight to behold, since you’re with THE Father. But it’s still pretty bittersweet for us down here.

I know you said you were just, “Going on ahead of us to heaven so you could save us a seat down front” and that it would “only be a blink” before we’d be together again. Some days, though, it feels like an eternity. There really are no words for how much I miss you – how much everybody misses you.

This year, mom asked if I would write something about you and send it to the paper – something to honor you. If they print this, someone else reading this will also be a daughter or son who has lost a dad. I know I’m not the only one. Some kids have no notice at all. Cancer is not the only thief. He has brothers with names like, “Tornado” and “Car Crash” and “Cardiac Arrest.”

In a way, those last 100 days were a gift because we had a little time to prepare, to cherish, to say goodbye. Some folks are not granted such grace. Other kids don’t even know who their fathers are. They grow up with a big blank spot where a father should be.

Saddest of all are the kids who have horrible, weak, self-absorbed men in their lives who have no idea what the word “father” means. My heart aches for them. What a waste.

I find it funny, after all this time, that I don’t really remember anything you ever bought me, Dad. Instead, I remember laughing with you until my sides hurt, seeing you play air guitar to “Mississippi Queen,” listening to you read Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks” to me when I had the chicken pox or doing your Kermit the Frog impression to wake me up for school in the mornings. I remember watching you dance in the kitchen with mom, learning from you how to drive a stick shift, how to keep my eyes open when trying to catch a ball, and feeling you wipe away my abundant, seemingly unending tears over a stupid boyfriend or two.

What I remember most didn’t cost you any money, didn’t require any higher education, didn’t consist of anything but your time. You lavishly spent your most priceless possession on me – your precious time.

GIGANTIC BLESSING

So, this Father’s Day, I’m going to endeavor to realize the gigantic blessing you were when you were with us, though your time was far too brief. I’m consciously going to focus on the gift of you that God himself granted me instead of the sadness over your absence. We will, of course, have hot dogs and put Cowardly Lion pictures on the fridge and Paul Newman on the DVD player, but this year I think I’ll crank up some “Mississippi Queen,” dance with mom in the kitchen and try to see if we can really laugh out loud. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

We’ll meet with family and friends, and take time to retell the stories to each other we’ve heard a thousand times about “Louie-Louie,” the Pizza Inn incident, the time you got your “bell rung” in the football game and huddled with the other team, how you met mom and how you both decided what to name me when I was born. These are the stories that comprise our family history. It is your legacy.

I want to gratefully celebrate you until this “blink” of a mortal separation period is over and I finally get to sit in the seat you’ve been saving for me down front. And I will do my best to honor you by being the kind of woman you raised me to be. I will honor your memory by taking time to tell people unfortunate enough to have never known you what a fantastic dad you really were.

You, Mike Spann, truly were THE “Dad of Dads.”

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