I have spent most of my adult life masquerading as an adult. I often wondered when the feeling of being a grown up would kick in. I joked that I was officially mature when I purchased a gravy boat instead of opting for a cereal bowl and spoon at Thanksgiving dinner. After purchasing a house, I was sure my adult persona would take over. Instead I had the lingering suspicion a bank official would arrive on my doorstep, advise there had been a mistake, and order me back to my room. Surely once I had a baby my days of feeling like a kid would be over. Nope. On my worst days, I paced around rocking a wailing child, internally wondering why anyone would ever trust me to raise him.
I finally feel like a grown up. It took losing my father.
Years before my dad passed away, I had a conversation with my father-in-law. I don’t know what started our talking about the subject, but I remember him relating having a midlife crisis. He described startling from slumber, unsure of what woke him, but with a sense of anxiety. After suffering this occurrence on numerous occasions, he began to ponder what was causing such stress. He traced it to his father’s passing and to being faced with his own mortality for the first time.
My mourning process took a different path, but I remembered this conversation and it brought me comfort. I’m not sure why. The idea of waking from dread is not a particularly soothing prospect. I guess I was reassured to think someone else knew what it felt like to grow up.
My dad’s passing was the first time I had been faced with death. Of course I knew other people who had died. I lost three grandparents during the course of my childhood. While I loved my grandparents, my view of them was narrow. They were people I visited every few months, who gave me presents on holidays and cooked my favorite meals. They were surrounded in the glow being unable to do wrong in my eyes.
I knew my dad as a person. I’d heard his favorite joke a thousand times (why can’t roosters pee? Because they eat with their peckers.) He loved pineapple milkshakes and my mom’s green chili. When he got mad at something, he’d proclaim “horse shit” before dismissing the discussion. He always carried a pack of gum and a comb in his pocket.
My dad had his first heart attack two years prior to the one that killed him. I got the call that he was in a coma, and that I should fly home as soon as possible. When I arrived at his bedside two days later, my siblings were all gathered around, holding his hands and patting him on the shoulders. Dad had awoken a couple of hours earlier. He was not completely lucid or able to talk, but he was awake and alive. I stroked his hair, and he tried to kiss me on the check. He knew who I was. He was going to be ok.
The man who worked twelve hours days retired. He started doing the things he wanted. Some of them were simple, like mowing the lawn on his riding lawnmower. Others more elaborate, like visiting Mt Rushmore. He played with his grandkids. He went to car races. He took drives with my mother. When the second heart attack took his life, I was at peace with it. He had been living on borrowed time. I felt blessed that he had two years to enjoy his family, have experiences, and not work so hard.
That was my initial reaction. I did not realize that mourning is a slow, slow process. Months later, I thought of the booming way he’d say “it’s Kathy Jo from Borneo,” and started crying so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. He called me that. No one else. I would never hear those words, that way again.
My siblings have the luxury of proximity. On the anniversary of my dad’s passing, they can get together and share a chocolate cream pie (his favorite) and talk about the good times. I live hundreds of miles away. Yes, there are phone calls and emails, but it’s not the same. When you long for someone, isolation from the people who knew him best can make that loneliness almost unbearable. I wanted to gather around the kitchen table and look at old photographs. Laugh at our horrible haircuts, and dorky fashions. Reminisce about the blue fur jacket my dad used to wear that made us cringe, and the songs he’d sing and play on guitar that made us smile.
A couple of days ago, we had dinner with my father-in-law to celebrate his birthday. Over the course of the meal, I asked my son, Liam, if he knew what his middle name was. He replied “Glover?” I said that was his last name. I told him “your middle name is Eric. Do you know anyone else with that name?”
His face lit up and he pointed at his grandpa.
“That’s right,” I said. “You are named after your papa.”
Eric piped up, “do you know what your third name is?” I had insisted that each of my boy’s have two middle names- the second being my maiden name so they always knew were part of two families. I was curious to see how Eric would explain what a maiden name was to a four year old, but to my surprise he did not talk about maiden names at all.
“Your third name is Forsythe, after your other grandpa. Isn’t it great that you are named after both of your grandpas.”
My other son, Kellen, has been insisting we eat dinner by candlelight. That night, I was thankful for the soft lighting to hid the tears that sprang to my eyes. My greatest sadness in regards to my dad’s passing is that my sons will never know him. That moment, that small kindness in words, let me know that my boys will know my dad, even if it is only in photographs, stories, and the memory that will now be brought to mind whenever they hear their full names spoken. Thank you, Eric. I miss you, Dad.