A Birthday Letter to My Dearest Father

Loss and reflection

Hello Dad, it's me Steph. Today is your birthday, February 23, 2016. You've been gone for several years now. I can't believe that you haven't been part of my life for nearly 6 years. I don't think you knew where this was going. Alzheimers happened to be the malady that eventually claimed such a vibrant spirit. And a funny, sparkling character. You would have not known that your brilliance would disappear slowly as a candle flickers down. The light that was you, Dad, truly is missed. I am certain that you are amazed that life gave you such an awful finish. And so you should be, because you were my Dad. Completely present and always ready to protect and nurture me. 

 You were so positive, Dad. Anything that was possible was believable if I saw it through your eyes. I never felt as if I was falling short in my confusing life from awkward, shy nerdy teenager to naive adult daughter. Setting it all into a crystal clear perspective allowed me to see a reflection of someone capable. Even if my situations screamed incapable. You were how I found some sure footing. Those mistakes in judgement were slippery obstacles. And I reached up for something to hold onto. I looked up to you. You came to the edge, met me there, held my hand, and spoke to me. And filled my heart's longing for understanding. I could leave our talks without reservation that any choice I made from that moment on was informed. 

 Dad, you were the type who always wanted to give yourself away. It brought you as much pleasure to see others content than it did your personal joy. Working 13 hour days in that convenience store when I was a little girl to a high school student. It had to be for the family. I was too young to see it as a sacrifice, and perhaps I was too self centered. Kids want what they want. It is so easy to miss the lessons in the life experience. Especially when the silliest things are motivational. Trust me Dad, most of the nonsense I focused on I would have sacrificed in a heartbeat had I known I was taking advantage of my Dad's outpouring of support and love.

Your brand of devotion was stellar. You loved that role, a nurturing father. Not hard edged  unless I was completely off my mark. Gone totally batty. (And I'm sure I can recall some outer space times.)  Amazingly, I never felt any rejection from you. I could hear occasional disappointment in your tone. But I knew that was a time for some introspective me speak. If I could just see a mirror image of what you felt I could have been. Somehow I think you would have just drawn me exactly as I appeared that moment. She would have looked and behaved as I did. Because Dad, you didn't say things to aim for my pain or heartbreak. You built up the tiny pieces of me and stitched these rags together when I was fragile. This meant that I was loved "as is" and broken or fresh from being tossed in the dirt. You believed that shining me up with a pep talk and a story of where your life once took you could fortify my wounded mind. 

As a young adult woman, most of my early 20s were what I think of as a train wreck. Dad, I know it took a great deal of strength to see your youngest child so needy. I knew answers to my deepest fears lie in your brilliant mind. And you donated and gave to me. I was your child and student in how to live more smartly. The love was in copious amounts. If your love was water to drink, at times in my existence, I was the old tin can with dents and puncture holes. It kept spilling, all the nourishment for my spirit. So you brought extra pitchers of love. How did you know just what to give, how frequently, and when? I knew you were brilliant. 

 You know, people were expecting this to happen. Alzheimers diagnosis is a slow life sentence without parole.  I held out hope that it all was a bad dream. Somehow you'd be that cat with nine lives. Every setback from other health concerns was so easy for you to recover from. And better than the last. You wore those battle scars with pride. But this one, you know Dad, with having a child with Autism, I thought that this was picking on my guys. Why my guys? I questioned the absurdity of potentially losing the man who gave me life, who supported my days from a precocious child reading newspapers at age 2 to a woman with 2 kids at age 30. That wouldn't be possible. And you would never allow it to happen. 

Dad, I know you wanted to live for me. For Mom. For the grandchildren. And everyone who loved you. Those effervescent daily bursts of joy would give anyone a reason to hang on. And how you held on. I remember times when I needed to change your underwear or assist you with feeding. I know its so indignant to have your daughter changing you, but I feel proud to have been part of your needs. I would do it again if it were at all possible. And how many times did you ever ask for help? It was always opposite. Special people deserve complete understanding and someone to run to their aid. Dad, there is no such word as burden when it comes to being completely devoted. Your honor is worth more than a few moments of my life. 

When you left this world in April of 2010, you broke my heart. It shattered into so many pieces. Maybe those were pieces of me and you. The memories we didn't know we were making. That long goodbye that began with Alzheimers. And I knew, although I never told you, that you were my best friend. Maybe you already sensed that I admired your tenacity and longed to someday be worthy of your admiration and pride. To perhaps follow your path to a road of success without fear. Knowing your door was always unlocked to talk gave me courage. Where would my courage come from at age 34 without you? And beyond that, how would I stand strong in who I was without your love? There were a few days before you left that I knew you were going. Before a performance on my saxophone at a community concert, I received a call that you were experiencing seizures. I said to myself, "my cheerleader is gone". You would slip away a day later in the middle of the night. 

Dad, it seems like forever or yesterday. Neither reality sits well with me. I needed to write you on your special day to say I haven't forgotten. Incredible is what you were.  You'd be so surprised at how much I'm like you. And it happened pretty much overnight, in my opinion. Much after you passed.  You are celebrated. I speak of you often. My reality includes loving and losing a father to a very tragic neurological disorder. But there's joy in our memories. And the love you left behind for all your loved ones. The joy of being your daughter was phenomenal. I know you thought you'd live forever. Not on this Earth. But all you give gets recycled back through kindness of those that were impacted by the sheer gift of you. So your birthday gift is how your memory remains a light in the dark for me. Your life mattered. You left a legacy. How amazing is that? 

I am writing now, Dad. I decided to take my nerdy tendencies and put them to timely use. Today, this writing happens online. Don't worry Dad, being online isn't dangerous. Actually people take portable smartphones around with them and get on the internet while walking, eating, sometimes falling asleep. It is blogging, or being a blogger. I make this universe up as it pops into my head. So yes, I and it are a bit all over the place. Happily in disarray, but a complete work. You'd be proud, I think...? And maybe I will publish a book of poetry.

Well Dad, your birthday is coming to an end. I don't want to let you get back to the world that you are one with nowadays. But I know you're my angel making sure I have a safe place to fall. Laughter will be heard throughout the heavens as you joke with all the friends and family you reconnected with. And I wait for a day I will see your face again. Maybe someday Alzheimers will be a distant memory. 

Happy Birthday Dad! 


Your daughter


For Frank Marley Sr. my best friend who happened to be my Dad