Oh how I want to talk to you today. There’s so much I’ve wanted to tell you, so much I want you to know about the last three months. When we were living with mom this summer, I would often come downstairs in the middle of the night and walk into the den, half expecting to find you reading on the sofa. I so wanted to curl up next to you like I did when I was younger. To have you put your arm around my shoulder and hear you say “tell your dear old dad what’s bothering you.”
You’d be proud of us Dad. Of how we calmly walked together down that long hall in the hospital, hand in hand, toward the doctor who was staring at the floor tiles instead of meeting our gaze. Of how we looked each other in the eyes in that tiny cramped room and promised that we were never going to hide anything from each other. Of how we have lived up to that promise. Of how we have taken care of each other. Of how we gave ourselves permission to laugh and tell jokes and celebrate your life instead of mourning your death.
You’d be proud that we haven’t run away from anything. Peter and Tayloe didn’t postpone their wedding. They’ve picked out dresses and flowers and music with joy. Mom didn’t shy away from going to the Major Donor Dinner at the Chrysler without you. She zipped up her own dress and let her friends tell her she was the prettiest girl in the room instead of you. We didn’t cancel our family vacation at the beach. We swam in the ocean and played cards and watched a summer storm light up the night sky. We haven’t allowed this to define us.
People have been shocked at how “fine” we are. How fine we’ve been all along. They use words like brave and strong. But you wouldn’t be surprised at all. You and I both know that there is nothing brave or strong or remarkable about letting the overflow of love that we built up over the last four decades fill the void you left behind.
I imagine it would come as a great shock to you to know how much you are missed by so many. You would blush at the hundreds and hundreds of letters we received, talking about your wit, your compassion, your generosity, your mind. I wish you could know how many people say you changed their lives – your friends, the young associates you mentored, the people whose loans you paid off anonymously and cars you bought, the newspaper delivery woman who said your generosity allowed her to feed her family when she couldn’t afford to do it on her own, the boys and girls to whom you were a father when they had none of their own. I read these letters often and one day I will show them to the boys. So they know not just the man you were but the men they should be.
The boys are great. They both have your penchant for bad jokes and your love of history. When we were cleaning out your office, Will happened upon a book entitled “The Pacific Campaign” and hasn’t put it down since. Only your grandson would sit quietly in a corner pouring over a complex book about naval strategy in World War II. You’d be pleased to know that Jack has to memorize a poem every week for class. You always told us the only way to really understand a poem, to feel the rhythm and cadence, was to memorize it. I’m trying really hard to remember that damn magic trick you taught them right before we left for Cape Cod. Jack has been working to recreate it but I’m pretty sure he’s cheating.
You’d be proud of our Hoos Dad. I could see you shaking your head and worrying about our blisters as we sat in the stands on that 100 degree day, but the boys and I needed to be there. For us. For the team. For you. Jack says you sit next to him at the games and I believe that with all my heart.
Know that we see you every time you come to visit – that double rainbow over JPJ, the great blue heron that walked across the yard late one night and stood inches away from us for what seemed like an eternity, the turtle that was waiting at the back door the day that we placed your ashes in the collumbarium. The boys love it when you move pictures in their room or knock a book off the shelf. They smile and laugh and say “Goodnight Buster!”
You’d be a little embarrassed that this blog that you were so proud of, the one that was the subject of your last email to me (and 300 of your closest friends), is being read by people from Brazil and Italy and Egypt and India. Not because of me, but because of you. The fact that you are still finding your way into people’s hearts brings me such happiness. Leave it to you to find a loophole around death.
I know this was an awfully long-winded message for a birthday card but you know I have never been a girl of few words – I am your daughter after all. Tonight we’ll celebrate your birthday. We’ll probably cry a little bit. We’ll definitely have cake. We’ll talk about how we miss you so very much but can’t help but smile when we see your legacy everywhere – in the little boys who tell knock knock jokes and talk about Pearl Harbor, in the men and women whose lives you made easier and better, in the son and daughter who have always seen the world through your glasses.
Happy Birthday Daddy…