As I sat down to write this tonight, a ton of memories flooded me and just overwhelmed me. Tears just streaming down my face. Tomorrow marks three years ago that I said good-bye to my dad and yet it seems like yesterday. My dad was a complicated man to say the very least. It's taken me a long time to finally put together who I think he really was. When I look at pictures of him from his childhood, I just see this sweet little face and big blue eyes. How did that sweet little boy end up the man that he became.
My dad was rough. He was rough from start to finish. He struggled with so many things throughout his life from abuse in his own childhood home, failed marriages and friendships, failed life goals, a lot of self loathing and just trying to figure out his place in this world. He once told me he had a lot to be ashamed of. My dad was an addict and that addiction made him a thief, a liar and abusive. He had so many larger than life stories that you never knew where the lies ended and the truth began. I could lay out all of his offenses but he's gone and what good would that accomplish. I finally gave up trying to sift through it all after his passing and realized that all that was apart of who he was.
I was angry with him for a really long time. I wanted a different dad. I wanted the one who went to a job every day and helped my mom. I wanted the kind of dad that I could be proud of. That went to church, held his wife's hand and took care of his family. It wasn't okay with me that he wasn't the dad I wanted. That my sisters and I deserved. The husband that my mom should have had.
Once I had my own children, I saw a different side to my dad. The one who always struggled getting clean and never achieved it. The one who loved with his whole heart and the depth of those feelings ran so deep that he would often get emotional. The man who fought depression. The Dad who bought me a piece of Elvis Presley memorabilia after every argument we had to show me that no matter what I did to upset him, he still loved me. The one who would give a friend the shirt off of his back and all of the one's in the drawers (no literally he would and it drove my mom crazy). He took in the strays, the one's who had no family, needed to get clean or needed a second chance (this also drove my mom crazy). I think he saw so much of himself in them and he wanted to give them a chance. The one who, once we finally got honest with each other, became my rock, my friend and the most amazing grandfather to my children than I would've ever thought possible.
When he was diagnosed with a fatal illness that stemmed from some of his rough lifestyle choices, I ran the gammat of emotions from denial, anger and acceptance. My life changed. I decided every moment I had with him would be spent laughing, talking and being real with each other. I wanted him to get the most out of his final days...whatever that meant. Even when it meant fighting with my mom about whether he should eat a hearty meal versus that bowl of dreamsicle ice cream he loved even though it wasn't good for him. I struggled even more when we had to decide to put him into an assisted living facility because I just knew I was somehow letting him down. The day my sister called to tell me that time was way too quickly approaching that he would be gone, I looked at Eric with a face full of tears and he (in his most understanding way) said "Get in the truck. Let's go" and that sweet husband of mine drove 90 miles an hour almost the whole way to get us there in time. My sister and I sat holding his hands and telling him it was okay to go when he took his very last breath. It truly was the most heartbreaking moment of my adult life. What I failed to see at the time, was how blessed I was to have been given those last moments to forgive out loud, to talk it out and to tell him I loved him.
People have asked me over the years (MANY TIMES) how I could love a man who was so rough and want to make his final days the best I could. The answer is simple. He was my Dad. He loved me in the ways that he knew how. He's the man who, when everyone else was watching the parade at Disneyland, rode on Pirates of the Caribbean with me over and over again and each time pointing out something new and laughing at the top of his lungs (I can still hear that laugh and it still makes me smile). He raised me to see the beauty in the every day. He's the guy who when I had a problem at school rode his Harley into the Principal's Office (not up to but IN to). He was the man who told me to marry my best friend and then strapped on his chaps and rode all night long when he found out that Eric was throwing me a surprise wedding so that he could be there to walk me down the aisle (right after he tried to talk Eric out of marrying me - ha ha). He gave me a love of music, being tickled until it hurts, to believe and stand tall for our country and God (even though he struggled himself with his own faith). He always tried to teach me wrong from right. I can still hear his words "Don't end up like me Kierstyn. Learn from my mistakes." Lastly, he is the one who loved my children with literally all he had and his final word was to my son when we arrived to say good-bye to him. It was just a simple "hi" but it meant everything to my boy who looked at his Papa as his best friend.
So no matter how hard he was for lots of other people to love (and yes I completely understand why), I loved him and I loved him in that BIG, HUGE, up to the sky kind of love!!! So I honor a man who raised me, who loved me and who, when I needed him, was always there for me. He was so perfectly imperfect. He was crazy, beautiful!
What I learned from him was to love my children and to discipline them with a protective hand instead of a heavy one, to stay away from drugs because the addiction gene runs strong in my family, to be outrageous and try things at least once, to enjoy the adventure that is life, to fill your life with friends and family who love you and to accept people without judgement because you never know their story.
Thanks for letting me get real with you. Being myself is the best thing I can do for myself and for all of you. Here are some pictures that make me smile and remember the good stuff.