I know that I talk about my father here a lot, but I fear that I spend too much time talking about how much I miss him and not nearly enough time talking about what an irrepressible joy he was when he was alive. I’m going to work on that.
For those of you who knew him, you know this joy of which I speak—you remember the way he could make you feel better about yourself than you thought possible. You remember his laugh—a remarkably unique, full-bodied rumpus. You remember his silly accents and songs, his over-the-top handshakes, his almost-painful bear hugs. You know all of those things; you remember him. And for the people in my life who can only know him through pictures and stories, I want to tell you everything. I want to give him to you as much as I can.
I loved watching my dad do his thing at camp: he came alive and grew somehow bigger than his usual size when he was leading the campers. I was proud to watch him live out the profession he was truly meant for. But the best memories I have are private moments, times when he reminded me that although he was a second father to hundreds of girls each summer, I was his only real daughter. So, memories of things like bedtime routines and family time stand out in my mind because only I know what that was like. As much as I’ve had to share my father with so many people, both in life and now in death, I still need to remind myself that at least in some ways I had him all to myself.
Looking at where my life is now, I think a lot about the things that my father passed down to me, or the things that I’ve learned from him since his death. Someone asked me recently what would be different if he were still alive. Of course I ask myself this question on a weekly basis, and there are a million answers. Painful answers and blissful answers. But when trying to answer her question directly, I realized that if my father were still alive, I probably wouldn’t have become a writer.
My father’s love of literature was endless, and I did take writing classes all through my father’s life because it was something that we liked to share together. But I wouldn’t have had the guts to push myself into this business if he hadn’t pushed me first by dying.
At home growing up, Dad was much more grounded than he was at camp, quiet even. Well, maybe not quiet. But he could be very serious, and I think back on those calm moments as some of the most formative of my childhood. Both of my parents read to me regularly; reading was always a family tradition. In high school during an Advanced Placement English class, I had weekly assignments that involved reading early American Literature (short stories by Hawthorne and Poe, etc) and then writing essays about them. Dad and I would read the stories together, and then sit in the office to write the essay as if the assignment had been given to us both. I would sit at the computer and Dad would sit at the desk on the other side of his home-office.
Each time, I would tell him what I wanted to say about the story—elements of craft, style, or composition that struck me—and he would tell me how to say it. Dad would dictate each sentence for me to type, using my raw ideas and shaping them in articulate paragraphs. I literally learned how to form sentences this way, how to express myself in print. He never imposed his own style or diction on me. Rather, he took my own vernacular and made the best out of it, in the process shaping how I would use grammar and syntax to my advantage for the rest of my life.
We never stopped reading books together, discussing them as equals, until he died. For a while afterwards, this was one of those activities that if I couldn’t do with my dad, then I didn’t want to even try. If I couldn’t talk about reading and writing with him, then I didn’t even want to pick up another book again.
But writing a book was his idea. Once he told me about this plan, I had no choice but to see it through. I never, ever thought I had it in me, never considered even trying. But when writing a manuscript became a sort of dying wish that I could fulfill for him, I went for it. And all the thousands of little tiny pieces that combine to make a book came together over the last eight years, much to my constant surprise. Suddenly I wrote a book. And now that I’ve written it, and in the time that has passed have become a writer, I can look behind me and know for certain that it was all because of him. Whether or not he did it on purpose, he gave me the one thing I feel I am good at, the one thing I know that I am meant to do.
When he was alive he made me feel like I could do anything. He still does. I know that’s a cheesy way to end a blog, but it’s true. I’ll never get his laugh just right because it was all his onw–too terribly unique. He did the best Tarzan yell, the best fake-Swedish accent, the best children’s book voices. But I do my own version of each of these things now. I am determined to reinvent the best parts of him–his full-bodied rumpus and all.