Note from Aimee: This year marks the 12th anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. I didn’t know it, but my husband Bryan has been writing a letter to him for a while. When I read it, I cried. He graciously allowed me to share it here because it says so much about their relationship.
It’s Father’s Day again and I’m still trying to find the right words to say. You don’t make it any easier since you’ve been gone for 11 years now, but you always told me your job isn’t to make my life easy. As you know, I am the proud father of an amazing son, and I wish you two had more time together. He is almost 16 now, and he is kind, patient, funny, challenging, contradictory, and thoughtful. He is an amazing teacher, just like you.
It’s a strange feeling to be both a father and a son. I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to do with either role, but I finally realized you didn’t either. I’m sure since I was your third kid, you had a few of the basic details down, but you still had new things to figure out. I’ve heard stories that when I was a baby, Mom was pretty sick, so you had to take on a lot of the feeding and baby raising for the first time. It was a different time and for the first two, mom did most of it. Taking care of me was really your first time. I wish I could see movies of your first few weeks! I can only imagine your big body trying to juggle my tiny little one. Thanks for not dropping me too much.
I remember odd bits and pieces from growing up with you. Mom was always taking the older ones to a class or event, so I got to hang out with you more. You were teaching high school and coaching all the sports, and so much of that is stuck in my brain. Some might have thought it was weird to have a five year old kicking around the locker room of a just-outside-the-city high school, but it seemed perfectly natural to me. I learned a ton. You were usually busy taking care of the students and team, so I had time to explore, observe, and learn on my own from some amazing people from so many backgrounds.
I remember how all of those kids on your teams were our extended family. You were a father to all of them. We were always picking up a van load of them up for practice or games, and they all came our house for food or just to relax after. Some didn’t have the best family at their home, but they were always welcome at ours. In my mind, they were my siblings, and I would see them at home as well as at their school. I’d joke with them at games, and clean up after them in the locker room. I remember being a little kid, standing in the locker room having thoughtful conversations with a group of black, white, and hispanic teenagers. We’d talk about the game, their classes, TV shows, or when they were coming over for dinner next. No big deal. We were just guys hanging out. No idea why they paid any attention to me.
You named me Bryan with a Y because you wanted me to be different, and I appreciate that you accepted what you started. You never understood how the world looked from my eyes, but you never felt you needed to. You always told me “You have a very different drummer.” (At some point I apparently responded “Yes, one you can’t hear,” and went away very frustrated. Somehow I got the stupid silent drummer.) While other children were asking for sugary drinks and candy for their birthday, I asked for beer. You were able to ease my under-age frustration by buying me cases of non-alcoholic beer, and occasionally letting me have Dixie cups of beer when we had parties at the house. I heard you tell your friends that I was “your drinking son” but didn’t know what it meant since my brother drank coke, juice and water all the time. I haven’t changed all that much on this count.
Throughout my life, you entertained my insane ideas, plans and schemes and tried to keep me from getting injured. You were generally successful, but I maintain that the 10 foot fence jump should have been an easier landing. Slight miscalculation. The umbrella I used to jump off the roof was defective, so that wasn’t your fault. Front brakes on bikes were made by the devil, so I can’t blame you for that. I begrudgingly accept responsibility for me getting hit by that car since I was officially grounded and not allowed to ride my bike in the street. And let’s not talk about me getting cut with the saws.
You taught me longer term lessons that I will never forget. One I really remember is that fear is a very real feeling but it should never stop me. You never told me what to be afraid of, but only that when I was afraid, it just meant to be more careful and figure a way through it. When I was afraid of bears on camping trips, did you expect I would want to go bear hunting with only a small stick? Probably not. Did you argue with my plan to put the stick in the bear’s mouth if he tried to bite me? No. You told me it was good for me to face my fear of bears, and we went hunting. I’m sure the bears could sense my lack of fear and ran away from us.
Beyond learning about fear, one lesson that has become more relevant lately is that I should only fight when the fighting is the important part – it’s not about winning or losing, it’s standing up for what is right. We all have a lot more of that to do.
You also taught me that laughter is the essence of life. Always be respectful of people’s feelings, but a really good joke is worth everything that needs to be done to sincerely earn forgiveness. Jokes and laughter reveal truth about ourselves better than anything else, so give and receive with equal joy. Be open, honest, gracious, and giving as much as possible. Our power to make people smile can change the world.
Unintentionally, you taught me that we all have failings. There are times we don’t measure up to the standards we have set for ourselves and for others. We all continue to learn, grow, and hopefully improve every day. We all have to face our own fears, tame our own demons, and find a way through life. There is no finish line where we can say “Yes, I am grown up and know everything now.” There will always be new fears and bigger demons.
You did learn a few things from me though, right? I proved that you don’t have to get a haircut to get a job after college. Not a requirement. I’ve gotten one since, but I still don’t feel the need to comb my hair. It likes to do its own thing.
I taught you that candles do burn at both ends. In fact, the wick goes all the way through so the middle burns as well as the ends, it just takes more practice. How you didn’t understand this basic principle has always eluded me.
Between the two of us, I think we did ok and the summary lesson is this: Life was made to be interesting, challenging, beautiful, terrifying, joyful, painful and more. Embrace it and live it to the fullest. I always think of you, and hope you are enjoying watching over me as I still try to be like you, and pass these lessons on to Declan.
Happy Father’s Day,