Three years ago today you left us. Not in spirit of course, but you left this world to step into another one.
Even though I know you’re still with me, guiding me, I miss you uncontrollably. When I can’t sleep at night or get through a day, I think of the way you fought your Cancer. You treated it like a tennis opponent, doing everything in your power to destroy it in the heat of battle. But you also treated it like a great friend when the match wasn’t in play, letting it humble you and give you grace.
I try to fight my sadness the same way, Dad. I fight through the darkness aggressively to find light. But I also embrace the darkness now because of the man it’s shaping me into.
After you died, initially I tried to take the grace you instilled in me during those last 18 months and let it drive me in my relationships and in life. For a while it worked. Then your void became so poignant that depression outweighed any form of happiness. I realize now, after a very painful year of actually feeling instead of coping, where that endless grace you shared with me was coming from: Your faith in God.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This prayer embodies you, Dad. I’ll carry it with me throughout life so I can be strong like you were. Strong for Mom. Strong for my friends. Strong for strangers. Strong for Micah. Strong for my wife. Strong for my kids.
I also want you to know how much I love you. I told you this before you left, but I want you to know how boundless it is. Instead of mourning, to celebrate the 23 years I had with you and the everlasting impact you’ll forever have on me as I continue to grow into a person I’m proud to be, here are my 10 favorite memories with you.
Brookfield Zoo. While I don’t remember it profoundly because I was too young, it’s the best memory I have of us when I was young because it always sparked so much anticipation. The two parts I recall the most: orange dreamsicles and spotting the peacocks.
Wisconsin Dells. Our family vacations were always a taste of heaven and the best of them came at the Dells with water slides, cool hotels and eating out. I loved how you precicely planned the trips out and centered them around others’ happiness. And I’ll never forget when you told Zach and I to stop cursing and then dropped an F-bomb at the end of a ride where the lifeguard scolded you.
Mom’s surprise party. While I didn’t get to see the type of husband you were before I was born, I caught glimpses of the deep love you had for Mom on these special occassions. This one was my favorite and not just because Mom was so easy to surprise. You planned things perfectly and arranged for all of her friends and family to be there. Her happiness was all that mattered. Nothing else.
Your seminars. I know I used to make fun of you for wearing sweaters and being the typical therapist/psychologist. But my respect and admiration grows for you as a social worker the older I get. You passionately cared about helping people who others couldn’t see. But you saw them, regardless of how mentally ill they were. When you’d prepare for your speeches with mom and I, and your passion showed, that was so powerful. It’s one thing to be passionate about something, but you were passionate for a cause to make a difference not just on a big issue, but on one individual person. I pray to have that type of love and dedication for a career some day like you did.
Our marathon. I say “ours” because while I ran 26.2, the last six you ran with me when you had Cancer (and going through chemo) speaks volumes to your determination to keep a promise. I remember our conversation that day was so pointless. It’s not anymore. Whenever I run now, I feel you there by my side. It’s my sanctuary where I can find you when I’m lost and every finish line I cross, I know you’re right there with me.
My track meets. No matter how cold or rainy it was, you were always there on the home stretch of my 2-mile races with a stop watch and pen and paper to scribble down my splits. Whenever I’m going through a trial in life, I imagine you tracking things down and encouraging me, yelling at the top of your lungs louder than any parent.
Basketball. This sport was a thread that brought us together like no other. You weren’t just a fan in the stands. You were a mentor, a coach, a partner to shovel snow in the driveway. You were someone to play horse with me when all of my friends were busy. You were someone to drive (and pay for) my basketball camps that rejuvenated my spirit. You were someone to write me positive notes when I wasn’t getting any playing time. You were someone who inspired me to break down barriers in basketball, and then later in life. You were Free-Throw Tom, and I’ll never stop wearing your sweatband on my right ankle for the rest of my life. You were legendary.
March Madness. I find it ironic that your health took a turn for the worse in the heat of March Madness. This was our favorite time of the year as a family, filling out brackets and somehow always losing to Mom despite being far more knowledgeable. Sitting in the hospital watching games with you will stick with me forever, not because of the specific memory, but because there was no better time for you to leave us. As I’ve been a part of covering the madness — on camera, in the newspaper/website and at the Final Four — you were always, always with me. Btw, you got last place in our final family pool. Mom won, again.
When I failed/succeeded. My favorite memories of you are the ones that aren’t defined by a certain moment and there are too many to count. Whenever I fell down, you picked me up by understanding my pain. Then you inspired me to turn the tide. And whenever I succeeded, you admiration glowed so brightly that everyone knew how proud and happy you were for me. Both of these qualities are irreplaceable, but whenever I fail or succeed now, while I don’t have you as my safety net or cheerleader, your spirit lifts me. And your void humbles me (I guess I kind of needed it) to help me realize not everyone sees me like you. But you saw me. And that’s something that can never, ever die.
Your last few days. The MLK quote still is on my heart. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” As the end neared, your fight and your love only strengthened. I still tremble when I think of this. How? You kept being grateful for every ounce of life you had. No matter how depressed or down I get, I will always have this image.
Before you left, you told me with confidence, “I’ll always be with you.” I suppose I believed this on the surface right away. I just didn’t know how cruel this world can be without you, Dad. I strive to see the good in others but I won’t lie in saying I’ve felt so unbareably lost at times. But as you reminded me when we were working on our book, “seeing isn’t believing.” I believe now, Dad. And I’ll never stop.