Today is the five year anniversary of my dad’s death by suicide.
As I sat down to write this, I had an idea of the angle I wanted to take, but it wasn’t one I necessarily wanted to explore. I opened Spotify and McCoy Tyner’s “Search For Peace” came on, so I’m going to take that as a sign.
I’m still on Facebook, so this is a tough time of year with the whole “Memories” business (Facebook reminds you of posts you made on that day in previous years) and I shared one of them, acknowledging that it’s going to be a rough week. A dear friend replied, suggesting I retell my favorite stories about my dad to keep his memory alive.
I love that idea. I have to be honest, though. It also stresses me out. And makes me feel like a bad person. I feel like I should have this treasure trove of amazing stories about my dad and me and, well, I just don’t.
Please stick with me here.
My parents divorced when I was like four and I lived with my mom for most of my formative years. I saw my dad every other weekend, for the most part. He helped coach me some when I played baseball and he came to all of my concerts and plays. I never doubted that he was proud of me, we just didn’t have a lot of actual time together. I wish it was different, but that’s life.
So, when I try to remember stories, it can be challenging. Honestly, I’m not very good with memories on the whole and part of me thinks it’s some sort of defense mechanism or something. In any event, I wish I had more and better stories and it makes me feel terrible that I don’t.
The truth is that I do have stories. I have to dig for them, but I’m willing to grab a damn shovel and get to work. And what’s fun is that, sometimes when you start digging, you strike oil. Ok, I don’t know if that analogy is working, but you get the point.
My dad was a hunter. I was not. But, I liked to go with him and he was patient with me every time. Without fail, we’d get to our spot and hunker down and I’d tell him I was cold. “I can’t feel my toes, dad!” I’d whine. Then he’d take off my boots, one at a time, hold them upside-down and use his lighter to make them warm for me. I’m fairly certain he never got a deer when I was with him.
One year I decided I’d surprise him and take hunter’s safety so I could actually go hunt with him! It was amazing! And when I say amazing, I mean that we went and sat in our blind for days on end, seeing no deer. “Dad, can I just shoot whatever we see next?” I asked. He said I could, as long as it was big enough. I had borrowed my Uncle Dan’s semi-automatic rifle, which is important for you to know because when a big doe finally wandered out of the woods and I looked at my dad excitedly, he nodded his approval and I aimed…fired… “I MISSED!” I yelled. “SHOOT ‘ER AGAIN!” he yelled back. I forgot I was using a semi-automatic. I squinted through the scope, she looked back, I shot again and down she went. Didn’t take a step. Perfect shot. I looked at my dad and asked, “Is that it?” “What a shot, ya goober!” he laughed. And that was the only deer I ever bagged in my entire life.
My dad was also good at pulling me up. Metaphorically, sure, but also literally. Once at my Uncle Larry’s farm we were walking through the pasture and I stepped in a mud puddle that went halfway up my thigh. Instantly, dad grabbed me and yanked me out. My boot, though, stayed. “Welp, she’s gone,” he muttered and carried me back to the house. Another time we were fishing, perfect little spot at the bend of this stream. We were surrounded by farm land, sitting on a cooler, our lines in the water. I was admiring the cows when all of a sudden BOOM! Something – I assume a big carp – took my bait and pulled little me right off the cooler towards the water. Again, instantly, my dad grabbed me, saving me from my watery fate, as we watched my pole disappear into the murky abyss. “Welp, she’s gone,” he muttered and we walked back to the car to get a different pole.
Two of my favorite stories are difficult to stomach, so I understand if you skip passed them, but…they are funny. I’m the star of the first one. My dad worked for the City of Middleton (WI) Parks Department for decades and one year, on Mother’s Day, he had to go check on a couple of the parks. I thought it would be fun to go with him, so I tagged along. Before we left to come home and while he cleaned something up, I decided to lay down on the merry-go-round, grabbing the edge with my hand, my little head hanging off watching the ground go by as I spun around and around and around. When it was time to go, I hopped in the car and off we went the couple minutes back to the house. As we walked up the driveway, my dad saw the neighbors all outside, gathered for their Mother’s Day festivities. “Well, happy Mother’s Day! This is my son, Ryan!” he proudly said. They all looked at me. I looked at them. And then…I PUKED EVERYWHERE. So much, you guys. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I know he didn’t make me feel bad. I think he said I had been having too much fun or something.
The other one was at my brother Billy’s graduation party. It was a beautiful day. They had gotten one of those backyard tents and there was tons of food. My wife and I had just arrived with our toddler son, Sam, and were making our way through the crowd of family and friends that were assembled to celebrate my brother’s accomplishments. Just as our arrival was announced, tiny little Sam unleashed a veritable tidal wave of vomit all over me. Or maybe it was all over my dad. This is what I mean…somebody will help me remember.
I think another reason this is so hard for me is because I love stories. And I wish I had made more with him. And I wish I could make more still. I wish my kids could make more with him. But we can’t and that makes me sad. Even so, I’ll keep mining my memories for stories of me and him. Circumstance dictated that we didn’t get to make as many memories together as I’d have liked, but there are plenty to keep my heart happy.
My step-mom posted this article yesterday and in it he talks about how, when someone we love dies, part of us dies with them. And that part is the memories we uniquely shared. There are stories my dad could tell me (or clarify for me) of times he and I shared alone together that I don’t remember and now, those are gone. And dammit, he was a great storyteller. I will always miss that. It’s heart-breaking, honestly, but it’s just a part of life, right?
So, today, I remember what I can about my dad. The good, the bad, and everything in-between. And I’ll look to my family and his friends to fill-in the parts I don’t remember or never knew. And that will need to be enough.
Miss you, dad. We all miss your story-telling. Even if you did tell the same ones over and over, sometimes. I’d give anything to hear you tell another story, but I’m thankful for the ones I did get to hear. And I’m grateful for the stories we made together.