Last night, sitting in the passenger’s seat of my best friend’s car, parked halfway inside my driveway, I wrestled with the idea of losing a father.
I don’t know how we ended up at that table, hammering hope into regret, but I think I know where it began.
At the tail end of 2003, when funerals were for the movies. When, six months before, a motorcycle accident was the closest some of us had come to saying goodbye. Back then I learned to hate the number 13.
So when, that same year, I spent the 13th of December learning that the world did, in fact, keep rotating on its axis while sixty or seventy preteen girls sniffled and sobbed on either side of me, I started toying with that idea of losing a father. A fourth father, perhaps, if I counted them right.
The Father I read about in books.
The man who named me. Who held me when I was just the length of his forearm. Who worried I’d never be bigger, grow stronger, if my mother didn’t write down every ounce of food I ate.
The man who held me and my sister to his chest on Sunday mornings as people filed out of wooden doors on either side of us, stumbling down red velvet stairs, whispering to Please Be Good For Your Parents This Week, OK?
And then this man. The one who taught me lessons every afternoon. Who looked after me long before he had a daughter of his own. Long before he never got the chance to hold her in his arms or look her in the eyes or dance at her wedding to Butterfly Kisses after Midnight Prayers to Father Nos. 1 & 3.
I have a feeling your father took the pieces of 1, 2, 3 & 4 and threaded them together. Piece by piece. Heartstring by heartstring.
And as you jump from one lily pad to the next, fumbling for your balance, I know it seems near impossible to land correctly without his hand stretched out to steady you. I know how it feels when you’ve never felt too good at this whole Life thing, this whole Change thing, this whole New thing, and he has always had your back. The perfect words when you fall on the floor.
And then, in a flash, he slides the cushion out from under your feet and whisks away to someplace else. Someplace that’s Gone far away.
I know it. So badly. Know the tears that last for hours as everyone says how wonderful he was, how it is such a shame to see him go so soon.
But I want you to know this: I believe in angels.
I see his eyes and his smile in the photos of his daughter sitting in a card from his mother, a woman who hung through pregnancy and grief all at the same time, just two weeks of We’re In This Together before his car smashed itself into the road and left her alone, holding out for the baby he left her to love.
He was my Father No. 4 for six years, the one I spent the most time with. The only one who never did the leaving. No, no, that was my job. Until, one day, it wasn’t. Until, one day, he didn’t show up for practice, to steady my balance on the wooden beam, to catch my flailing limbs when I smacked onto the ground.
Your dad is up there, hands on his knees, watching you from the sidelines of life. He’s in your smile and your eyes and the way that you carry yourself from this lily pad to the next. He is right here, right inside you, right where you can always keep him close.
And he’s not going anywhere. He’s left you with his words and his heart and his love. For you to take and spin into something wonderful, something he would have loved, with this next chapter in your book.
Carry him in your pocket. Unfold his words like roads on a map. Trace the outline of your smile and see his love in the corners of your eyes.
It is there. No matter where you position yourself on this Earth. He’s there.
Note: Eilis lost her father two years ago. She’s graduating high school, jumping into college life, and needs your words. Want to write to her? You’ve got until June 5.