I am sitting in a somewhat chilly hotel room in Columbus, Ohio tonight on the eve of the day that forever changed the little girl I was and the woman I would one day become. It’s been 21 years since I was forced to say goodbye to the one man a girl should be able to count on for most of her life. The one man capable of scaring off monsters and making little girls believe that they too can grow up to be princesses, rock stars or rocket scientists.
At ten years old, I had little comprehension of what death and forever meant. Nor was I capable of fully grasping what cancer really was. I didn’t know to ask all the questions I’d one day wish I knew the answer to. I didn’t know to listen to the stories. I didn’t memorize the sound of his voice or the warmth of his big bear hugs. I didn’t soak up any nuggets of wisdom or life lessons. No one told me that those were the things I would treasure and ultimately miss dearly.
Growing up without a father had it’s ups and downs. Some days he never even crossed my mind. Other days, I’d sit and wonder what he would say if he were here and I’d wonder if he’d have been proud of me or disappointed of me in that moment. I wish I could say that over time the tears subside, but I still find myself lost in missing him. It does get easier in the fact that as the memories weaken so does the pain of not knowing where we’d be today.
I’m never sure if it’s the fact that all I have are memories or that I will never make new memories with him that hurts the most. He never saw my twin brother and I graduate high school or college. He missed my brother’s wedding and my niece’s birth; and someday when it’s my turn to get married, he won’t give me away or dance one last dance with his daughter. He won’t see us reach our potential or make our dreams come true. He’ll never hear a song I penned or read anything I write. He won’t be there to give us strength in moments of weakness or warmth in moments of despair.
Twenty-one years later, I’ve now spent two-thirds of my life without a father and just today I realized that I do not have a single photograph of myself with my father. I do see him when I look at myself in the mirror, but only vaguely as I truly am my mother’s daughter. I see him in my brother, who because of our father, is a better dad than our father had the chance to be. I remember his love of cars whenever I hear Marc Cohn’s Silver Thunderbird. And every time I yawn just a little too loud, I remember his own a-little-too-loud yawns. But, my favorite moments are those when I miss him the most. Because in those moments a certain song or melody will send chills up my spine and I imagine that it his way of reminding me that goodbye is never forever. Or, on a cold winter day when I feel the warmth of the sun, I pretend it’s the memory of his strong embrace that warms me.
And it’s those moments that I am both grateful to have at least known him and long to know more.