What I Wouldn’t Give

Been thinking about my dad a lot lately, feeling his presence around me pretty heavily as I move forward to publish the book I wrote for and about him. Of course, I think about him every day so having him on my mind is nothing new. But this is such a bittersweet thing, to wish I could share this success with him, and knowing all the while that I wouldn’t have found the path to this sort of success had he lived. My dear friend Victoria, grieving the loss of her own mother, asked me a really difficult question about this very issue just a few months ago.

Victoria came for a visit to Seattle last spring, and on her last night in town we went out for a fun sushi dinner. A couple of sake bottles in,Victoria asked me one of the most difficult questions of my life. She leaned across the table and said, “If you could have your dad back, but be the person you were when he was still alive, would you do it?” The easy answer is “yes.” Yes, I would do anything in the whole world to get him back if even just for one minute, one last conversation, one more hug.

But, my eyes glazed with a moderate buzz and my head fuzzy with thoughts of alternate realities where alternate Tanyas live alternate lives as non-writers, I found that I couldn’t really answer that question with conviction. The truth is that I am proud of who I am now because I’ve fought damn hard to get here. Without experiencing the trauma of losing my father and the subsequent struggles to carve out some happiness and security for myself, I can’t imagine who I would have become. I am a stronger, tougher, steadier person because of my father’s death and I wouldn’t want to give any of those qualities back.

By this point in the conversation,Victoria and I both had tears in our eyes and were holding hands across the table, drunkenly telling each other how much we loved each other and each other’s deceased parent. Our poor waiter had no idea what to do, and kept hesitantly checking in on our table throughout the evening.

This morning as I set about getting my work day started, I got sidetracked with a little Youtube meandering through old Gillian Welch/Emmylou Harris songs. Along the way, I watched a Mary Chapin Carpenter video and remembered, hearing her powerful voice, how much my father loved her music. I listened for a few more songs, trying to place the melodies back to our homes in Milwaukee and Tucson, where my dad loved to play his music throughout the day, believing that music belonged in the role of permanent backdrop to our family saga. Were my father to have lived, would I be able to appreciate his favorite music in this way? Or would I have turned my nose at it because it’s not really my cup of tea? I’m fully aware that many of the memories I have of my father have been turned halcyon, whether they deserve that status or not, in the years since his death. Everything he loved and did and stood for has become something to mimic, worship, and adore.

Without my father’s death, I am convinced that I wouldn’t have become a writer; I’ve been certain of this for a long time. And without writing, I wouldn’t be able to explore my grief, my opinions, and my views of the world as I have done. There’s just no way I’d be the person I am without writing as my primary identity.

On that note, and on the note of carrying on the traditions my father started in our family, I’d like to share a really incredible organization with my readers. It’s something my dad would have gotten behind, and something I’m damn proud to get behind myself. Check out what’s going on with Help Harry Help Others, a cancer research fund founded by an 11-year-old boy with an inoperable brain tumor. This is exactly the kind of writerly crowd I like to be a member of.

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