Tonight marks the first full month since my father passed away suddenly and peacefully in his sleep. That sentence feels so foreign. This month has been a blur. A blur of tears, sleeplessness, gazing out windows, peaking into my thoughts, curling up on the couch and into the presence of God, running from the question “How are you doing?” and then wrestling with it and learning to accept how I’m actually doing.
To be honest, none of this has gone as I imagined.
I envisioned this day
But it’s not how I planned it
You would be older
and I would be stronger
Kids wouldn’t cry
and I would know why
I liked my plan better.
I’ll trust God’s plan best.
There is much- so much- that I will continue to hold quietly in my heart as I mourn the absence of my father in my life and in my children’s lives. And there are some things that I would like to share with you. I hope to tell you about the days just after his death and the profound lesson I learned about stepping into my God-given, ever-growing strength and how I consider that my Dad’s parting gift to me. But today, on this first one-month anniversary, I’d like to offer what I shared at his funeral:
My father loved and was loved by so many. He was a friend to more people than I can count. The outpouring of support and sadness and emails and letters and phone calls and food- I believe- is a glimpse into Dad’s interactions with so many people.
But for my brother and I, he was our father. And man, was he a fun dad. I really wrestled this past week trying to think about what to share- there’s just so much. The good….the fun….the hard….But what I kept coming back to was the way he always-always-made me feel wanted. I don’t have a single memory of feeling like he didn’t want me around.Well that’s not entirely true. I do have one memory. Just one memory of questioning his love for me. It was the day my baby brother came home from the hospital and it’s one of my earliest memories. See, when Mom was pregnant with me, the doctors had told them it was a boy. And man was dad excited. A first-born son in an Italian family. Naturally, he would be named Thomas Jr like any good Italian should. Except, I came out me. And they were shocked. And I believe I remained nameless for more days that I think was necessary, until Dad decided, “no, she’ll keep my name.” So when my brother was born a few years later….well, let’s just say there was an 8 foot tall sign in our front yard of a baby boy with all his newborn stats. And I sat in the kitchen sulking and vandalizing the wooden kitchen table.But that was the last time I ever wondered if he loved me…or liked me…or wanted me around. Tony and I were his children, but we were also his playmates. I think he got a second childhood- a do-over- alongside us. Thank you Mom, for letting him do that. I know that was hard for you at times- to let go of order and cleanliness and throw your hands up and learn to enjoy the ride.
On Saturday mornings, Dad would take my brother and I to his basketball games in Hull, MA. The whole drive up he would have us singing doo wop, assigning each of us a part, all as he rocked back and forth to the beat he was drumming on the dash while simultaneously driving with his forearms. We were willing to sing any harmony he threw at us if he’d just focus on the road! Before we got to the gym, he’d give us a handful of quarters and take us to the penny candy store. And the best part was that he’d let us eat ALL OF IT as we watched him play basketball. It was probably breakfast.
There was so much singing. He seemed to find a way to incorporate it into everything. Like my wedding!
I remember Dad going to every.single.event I was into at the time. Cheerleading, Girl Scouts, piano recitals, plays, speech competition and any other thing I got into . And he wouldn’t just go. He would get into it with an excitement that was just amazing. I never doubted if he was proud of me.Dad would stay up every single Christmas Eve to play with us. He’d let us open all our presents- no waiting for Christmas morning- and we’d stay up all night playing with our new toys: paint-by-number, dolls, board games, whatever. He really liked toys and was such a kid at heart.He also really liked Halloweeen. Or he loved the candy. I’m not sure which. But he loved getting us dressed up to go trick or treating at the most densely populated residential area possible to ensure maximum candy collection. Even after we’d grown and moved out, he was still known to drive around Halloween night in the van looking at all the kids in costumes. I told him that might look a little suspicious- a grown man in a van slowly driving the streets on Halloween night- but he still did it. He marched to the beat of his own drum. And there was so much drumming.
And then there was the van. Dad would haul a van full of my friends to Six Flags or the lake or the mountains or out to eat. This van had no seats of course, so we’d sit on bean bags or lawn chairs or buckets turned upside down. Inevitably someone would go flying, but Dad would make a joke and a song out of it and we’d all laugh.
That van was also the location of many a family vacation. We’d get to a hotel, sleep in the van, and sneak into the pool late at night. Dad loved the water.
Later, when I lived in Florida, he would drive down to visit, sleep in the van, and in the morning he’d throw a towel over his shoulder, saunter down to our community’s pool, and take a bath…complete with a bar of soap! Last summer, when my husband and I visited (descended upon) my parents with our 5 small children, my parents slept in the van in their driveway so we could have the bedroom! He joked about his van being the quietest room in the house.
I remember the day the apartment complex he owned burned down. He pulled me out of elementary school so I could see the fire. I remember seeing all the charred remains and him saying, “it’s just stuff.” None the less, he still really liked stuff.
He probably had every edition of Consumer Reports ever published. He kept every card ever given to him. He kept a mason jar of fire balls in the van. And tubes of lipstick just in case he could rope a new unsuspecting victim into his infamous Itchy Itchy Goo prank. We had a full-sized trampoline in our living room. And a Christmas tree year round. And a front door always opened to friends. I’ve lost track of how many friends have written me this past week to share how Dad was like a father to them…and also a fun friend.
One of his signature sayings was, “Are we having fun yet?” I called it ‘forced fun’ because Dad had waaaay more energy than me-even up until his last day when he was playing racquetball as I was getting ready for bed. He was always on the go day and night-always saying yes to the next adventure or coercing others to say yes to the next adventure- and I was a little more hesitant. I like sleep. I like quiet. I don’t mind being bored. But somehow I’d find myself on another trip, taking another pass at water skiing or snowboarding or going out to eat….forced fun. And I’m so glad I have those memories.But Dad did have a quiet side. One of my dearest memories is of Dad in his rocking chair reading his Bible, in it’s entirety, over and over and over. Early in the morning or late at night. Quietly mouthing the words. Year after year after year. His Bible was worn and tattered and eventually fell to the bottom of the lake.
In highschool we’d go out to that lake after school. He loved his boat and called it his satellite office. He’d allow me the sacred privilege of laying out on the bow of the boat as long as I would read to him. He’d get all greased up in baby oil- I’d joke about that being a lot of surface area- and then he’d listen to me read for hours- mostly the Bible and biographies of missionaries.As confident and care-free as he came across, I was also privileged to see the other side of him. The side of him that sat up at night regretting decision he’d made- “If I could do it all over again” he’d say. The side of him that got angry- though I will say it was rare. And the side of him that humbly asked for forgiveness and sought peace.
The side of him that was sometimes scared of dying. He always said he wanted to die in his sleep. “Boom, done. Just like that” he’d say. Or maybe he was more afraid of aging. I’m thankful he died peacefully and full of life.When I think about my dad and what he gave me-he was always supportive of me and who I was becoming. He was excited about my potential and continually encouraged me to use my gifts. Weekly he would call and say, “Hey, I read that blog thingy you do on the computer. It’s good. You got a gift. Keep writing.” It might’ve been a post about homeschool schedules or chore charts, but he’d read it and call me to talk about it. And strangely, this validation meant so much to me. He gave me the courage and confidence to adventure through life and explore who I was and what God might have for me.
As a parent myself, this is what my husband and I strive to pass on to our 5 children. Being parents who provide a loving, supportive space for them to discover who God created them to be.
Dad also always encouraged my singing. In the van, in the recording studio, floating on a tube in the lake, he always had a song for us to sing. The last time I sang publically was actually with my dad, many years ago, at a cousin’s wedding. We sang in Italian, and neither of us speak Italian, so I had to write out phonetically how every lyric was prounounced. I was so nervous that we would botch the song and ruin the wedding that I filled my coffee mug with wine to help calm my nerves. The morning of the wedding we stood up in the balcony of the church- me sipping wine and Dad saying, “You got this” and cracking jokes.
Dad wanted me to play the piano and sing a particular song at his funeral one day called Come to Jesus. I’m pretty sure I could never pull that off without a heavy dose of sedatives. But I did sing to him the other day. Privately, alone, and barely getting through it.…and recorded it for him and for us today at his funeral. I will miss my dad. And I will remember him every time my children giggle, every time we go through a carwash or hear a good drum beat or get chinese take out or see a conversion van or suspenders or bright red lipstick – in all the smalls parts of life that he made special and unique and bright. Thank you all for being a part of my family’s story and God’s many rich blessings.