You’ve Missed 20 Good Years, Dad

Posted December 17, 2017 by jimhigley

I like to think that my talent for taking selfies comes from my dad who I am pretty sure made the world's first selfie (circa 1955).

I like to think that my talent for taking selfies comes from my dad who I am pretty sure made the world’s first selfie (circa 1955).

My dad died 20 years ago. Today.

It’s hard for me to even write those words. “Hard” as in unbelievable. I actually pulled out his obituary to verify the year. Perhaps my math was wonky? 

But 20 it is.

I don’t remember who called me to let me know that he was gone. It had to have been one of my brothers – I just don’t remember which one. We knew it was imminent. The cancer he had been going back and forth with for a couple years was winning the war. I had made what I knew was my final trip back to Nebraska to see him in the hospital. To say good-bye. To tell him, one last time, that I loved him.

He asked me to shave his face – on that last visit. He knew precisely where his electric Norelco was – in the drawer next to his hospital bed.

After I was done, he felt his face with his hands and informed me – in no uncertain words – to hold on to my day job because “I’d make a shitty barber.”

My dad was known for a rather extraordinary sense of humor. For starters.

I had a chance last month, to spend time  with two of my father’s closest friends, Helen and Duane. My two boys and I were passing through my hometown en route to see my oldest brother, Tom, and his wife, Kathleen.

Kevin and Drew were anxious to meet these friends – for many reasons. At the top of the list was to benefit from first-hand stories about the grandfather – and my mother, Betty, who died when I was a boy.

I don’t cry often about my parents. After 42 years of losing my mother and now two decades without my dad, I’ve become accustomed to life without them. But it’s interesting, you know – being with Helen and Duane. Just the mention of either of my parents brought tears to their eyes. And mine.

Not so much tears of sadness. I think they were mostly tears of just missing the things we don’t often think about.

But today, I’m thinking a lot about my dad. And here’s what I miss:

  • I miss him calling on a landline for his weekly check-in. Subject number one was always the weather;
  • I miss him going into details about menus and how efficient his clean-up was;
  • I miss visiting him – as an adult – and coming downstairs early in the morning only to find him shaved, showered, dressed and sitting in his favorite chair reading. A cup of black coffee (a 50/50 blend of caffeinated and decaffeinated because that’s the way he rolled) in hand;
  • I miss his passion for doing laundry;
  • I miss him waking me up with a back scratch while saying “Good morning, good morning, good morning. The horse is dead. Hung the saddle in the barn.” (I have no idea what that means but it was one of the many things that made him, him);
  • I miss his annual Christmas letter he would write to my brothers and me. He did this every year. One letter where he’d put his pride and love into words, photocopy it five times, and then distribute it to his boys for equal-opportunity reading;
  • I miss the recurrence of the number “5” in everything he did – namely gambling. If it’s possible for a man to have more compassion for a number – I’ve yet to meet him;
  • I miss him placing his hand on mine – usually when I was sitting next to him in the car. It was an open hand. A soft hand. And he’d leave it there just long enough to make his love felt;
  • I miss his promptness. Period.

The list continues. It’s largely made up of the little things. But isn’t that what life is all about? The little things.

But, of course, there is one big thing and that is the fact that he simply wasn’t a part of the last 20 years. The few rounds of bad and the many, many rounds of good. At the top of that list of good – of the things I wish so desperately my dad could have been a part of – are the lives of my three children. There is nothing small about that loss. It’s a very, very big “miss” in my life.

Drew has no memory of Grandpa. And Kevin and Wallis? Limited. Understandably.

There’s no doubt in my mind they would have adored him. There’s also no doubt in my mind that he would have relished in the storylines of their lives. He was a cheerleader extraordinaire.

And I’m proud to be his son.