The Day Before my Father Died

Barn Door and Pine Cones Strawberry pinesTwenty years ago, I slammed the door and walked out in a frustrated whirlwind way that only a teenager can. I can still feel the vibration of the door hitting the frame.

“You are going to regret all this work one day. You need to pay more attention to us! You need to pay more attention to ME.”

Those were the last words I would ever say to my father. It was less than six months before I would graduate high school.  I had never spoken to him that way before. He was my hero. I was frustrated that I had discovered a fatal flaw. All heroes have them but this was shaking my world. I was frustrated that he couldn’t do it all. I was more like him than anyone else on the planet. This was a mirror of my own humanity. I didn’t know how to process it. As teenagers, many of us say things we regret. None of us expect those words to be the last and we certainly don’t expect them to be foreshadowing.

I went to my grandmother’s house to cry. She listened and tried to explain the pressures of being an adult and being a parent to me. He was raising two daughters the best way he knew how. “None of us have done this before. We’re all going to make some mistakes” she told me. I listened and tried to absorb all that she said. I stayed until the tears had dried.  I was as smart and self-aware as any 17-year-old girl could be at that time in life. I couldn’t tell the future though. Most of us can’t. I had no way of knowing that the heavy workload my father choose would be the death of him.

The next morning I got dressed for school and quickly paused to consider knocking on the closed bedroom door to say goodbye. I don’t know if I was worried he would still be upset for the way I spoke to him or if I was still a bit upset that I didn’t feel heard. I quickly decided against it. If I had known how the day was going to go, I would have knocked on that door. A few hours later I stepped off the bus into chaos. There had been and accident and my father had been rushed to the hospital.

The next few hours were such a blur that none of the conversation that happened the evening before seemed to matter. There were waiting rooms, surgery, and the worst phone call I’ve ever had to make. “There’s been an accident. You need to get on a flight right away. He’s in surgery. We don’t know if he’s going to make it.” There’s no manual for telling someone their spouse may not live. Especially when that someone is your mother. Especially when you are a teenager.

“None of us have done this before. We’re all going to make some mistakes.”

My mother’s flight arrived to the hospital before the doctor came out of surgery to announce that he had not survived. Everything was a blur from that moment forward. We were all in shock and the conversation from the night before didn’t seem to be the most important thing to bring up then. I guess so many other things avalanched in the days, weeks, and years that followed it never seemed like the most important thing to bring up. Yet it has has shaped so many decisions in my own life the past twenty years. The career path I chose, the number of overtime hours I would accept, how far we are willing to commute all played into the always analyzed work-life balance.

In hindsight, I would have chosen different words that night. I would have been more understanding. I was wise enough even then to never make myself feel guilty. I loved my father and I know he loved us. That’s why he worked so hard to show his love and why I was so jealous for his time with us. Some people show their love through gifts, some through actions, some through words, some with a hug or holding your hand, and some with their time. If you have never read the 5 Love Languages I HIGHLY recommend it.  I’ve always been pretty proficient at self-therapy and I knew that a relationship is defined by more than a singular moment or conversation. We are not our successes or our tragedies. We, and our relationships, are the culmination of so many moments that matter.

My father will always be the caretaker who sat me on the hood of his truck and pulled glass from my knee when I ran too fast down a giant hill. He will always be  the first man who put on a suit and took me to dinner.  He was my Mr Miyagi who frustrated me with simple tasks that fine tuned my work ethic and muscle memory into skills more valuable than gold. He made me attend college meetings alone, knowing I was terrified because “In life there are a lot of intimidating situations you will have to face alone. Get comfortable being uncomfortable now.” On Sundays, he taught me to drive fast on back country roads and calculate clipping point. The words of “I’m proud of you” still play on repeat. He taught me a lot of life lessons:

  • A half-truth is still 100% a lie
  • Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses
  • If you are at 90% there is still 10% you can strive to achieve
  • You are the only one who has to approve of your life
  • You can have anything you want in life depending how hard you are willing to work for it.
  • Never be afraid to speak your mind respectfully. Once you become disrespectful you forfeit your right to dialogue.

As an adult with four children of my own, I now know what an immense struggle work life balance is for most of us. This week, I’m looking forward to spending a few days in New Orleans with Dad 2.0 Summit, a community of fathers and brands who spend their efforts telling authentic stories of fatherhood. Some are balancing a traditional workplace and fatherhood. Some are solely working from home. The commonality is that they have all made a commitment to make fatherhood their business. We support the successes, struggles, and importance that fathers have. This is the community I want every father to have access too. The stories that are being told here and the community that exists for support is so valuable. It’s not that any of us have all the answers. The truth is “None of us have done this before. We’re all going to make some mistakes”. The comfort comes knowing that in community we are not alone.

Comments

  1. Beautifully told Alice ❤️

  2. Wow. This post is so parallel to my life. 24 years ago this month, at the age of 17, my dad passed away in an accident right before my twin sister and I were graduating high school. It completely impacted how I treat others (I never go to bed mad) and life choices I’ve made (traded in a successful career of 15 years to be a SAHM). Losing him so early and tragically broke my heart in pieces, but helped to shape every meaningful relationship after into something it would never be without his loss and for that I can’t help but be beyond grateful. It’s great that you have so many lessons from it. Loved reading this.

  3. You truly are an amazing person. This story not only honors your father, but encourages and supports your community. Enjoy your time at Dad 2.0. I’m sure your presence and your glowing smile will change someone’s life over the next few days.

  4. No words. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I love that you shared your story so we can all learn from it. Sending you love!

  5. Oh goodness. My heart aches for you. I have many memories of my mom dying when I was a teenager, and the awful things I said, or did before that. I often think there is a particular cruelty to losing a parent as a young teenager, as your brain is doing it’s best to differentiate. To pull apart and be independent. And yet, after a parent dies all you want to do is take back every moment you ever did that! Love your honestly and realness here. Sending you hugs and prayers as you support the Dads of Dad2.0 <3

  6. What a beautiful piece Alice. Makes me remember that life is so precious and short. I’m so sorry you had to lose your dad so young.

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