When he died, I realized I would not only have to write something, I would have to say something.
The usual platitudes about dads being heroic figures in our lives and providing a sense of safety came readily to mind. What I wrote at first felt generic but true. It was a start.
While helping prepare the service for him, I went through old family photo albums, remembering him in different states of being, all these different people he was before his illness. Him with a full head of hair, him with no beard, him with a super scruffy beard, him laughing, him running, him diving. The many, many photos of him finally began to erase the image in my brain of him in a hospital bed.
Looking at pictures of me with him, I remembered myself at those ages and my relationship with him, in all it's complexities. Stories came back to me: how he was so patient when washing the hair on my extra sensitive head, how he was the one who took me prom dress shopping because he alone was willing to go to every last store until I found the perfect dress.
Other stories come back too, but I pushed them away.
I would write something wholly uplifting and positive about him.
But the other stories kept coming back, the ones that included his temper and how scary it could be. I started to write about that. I deleted. I wrote it again, a little softer this time. It was clear I did not want to write about a perfect man who didn't exist. But I also did not want to focus too much on the dark parts of the imperfect man who did exist. I wanted to capture what I knew about the unique person my dad was, in a few succinct words.
I wanted people there to hear that being beloved doesn't require your perfection, that part of what I loved about my dad was how much he overcame, how beautifully flawed he was.
I wrote some more, including a section on the therapy sessions he and I did together in my early twenties. I edited some more. It started to take shape. A week before the memorial, I put it away for awhile.
When I came back to it, two days before the ceremony, I was resigned. It was good as it was going to get. I flipped words around, cut a clause here and there. I looked up words in a thesaurus, fumbling toward deeper meaning: is "humble" really the right word?
Then the service was here. I was sweaty, of course. When it was my turn to get up on stage, it was all a fog of sweat and terror. My brother read first and I watched his knee bounce nervously under the podium, listened to his normally resonant voice crack with emotion.
Then it was my turn and the words I wrote were tumbling out of my mouth. And I was doing okay, not going too fast, ad libbing when necessary. My tears were right there, dribbling out of my eyes and reducing my voice to a squeak more than once, but mostly contained.
Then it was over. I sat down.
In the receiving line after, people were hugging and consoling and praising me and I was smiling big, so very grateful and full of love for my dad: Thank you, thank you so much for coming.
But then that night and the night after that and the night after that, I lay awake in a typical post-event let down. It's over. It's really over.
He was so alive for me in that service, the poems, music and people he loved all surrounding me. His pictures were everywhere, his doodles were glued on poster board, his carvings were pulled out of dank basements and corner shelves and placed all around my parents' house, now my mother's house.
(I assume I'll get used to saying "my mother's house" someday.)
I feel sick when I realize how much I didn't say. No one talked about his insane Trivial Pursuit prowess. There was no mention of how he overcome a debilitating stutter. Did anyone really get at the heart of the 47 year marriage that he and my mother crafted?
I want to go back, make it better, include it all and I can't.