I realized recently that I have forgotten how your voice sounds. How wonderful it would be to have a recording of it. I remember Mom always reminding you to answer the phone properly. You never bothered with a time-honored “hello”, it was always just “yeah”. This was one of Mom’s pet peeves, but it still makes me giggle. I remember thinking how cool it was, that you did the opposite of what everyone else did.
I think of you often, but especially around this time – August, 30th 1985, the anniversary of your death. There are so many moments that I have grown to cherish throughout the thirty-five years we have been apart. I think about Mom’s dismay when you would take me on your “boy sprees”. You taught me how to ride my bike at five years old and drive a four-wheeler at nine. I can see you smiling at me with that genuine grin you flashed when I would follow you up the sand dunes on my four-wheeler or when I hit a golf ball with ease. I remember us wrestling in the living room until I would shout the magic password (“Acapulco!”) for relief.
I never told you this, but it made me feel miserable that your yearly “prize deer” was killed for sport. I still enjoyed the time we spent together. I remember the meat locker that made me shiver – with cold and excitement – knowing I got to join you and the butcher while you skinned and slaughtered the animal in the stockroom at the grocery store you managed. And I did enjoy the taste of fresh venison jerky and that spontaneous snap when you bite into it.
I appreciate how patiently you allowed me to play beautician, placing countless clips in your curly hair and beard while you watched television or read the paper. How quickly things changed for us after that routine visit to the doctor. You were complaining about headaches and neck pain. How could we have known it was cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to be exact, and that we only had two more years together.
How did you cope? At twenty-eight years old you were still trying to understand who you were or what you wanted to do in this world. What was your first thought? Were you scared? Did you think you could beat it? Did you cry? The only time I remember you ever having a negative attitude about your disease was our last Christmas morning together. Mom bought you a traditional camouflage hunting outfit with pants and jacket. I remember so clearly the image of you standing in it after Mom snapped your picture. You sank back into your tattered, tan recliner and said clearly, “I will not need this.”
Sometimes I try to replicate the situation for myself, consider how I would deal with a toxic cloud of cancer hovering over me. Your pain had to be unbearable with the radiation and chemotherapy – let alone the pain from the tumor itself. I respect your strength and all you did to shield us from the turmoil you must have been experiencing in every part of your being.
Sometimes life’s small problems can seem so big. I often think of you to put them into perspective, reminding myself and others that you would willingly be forty and have wrinkles, fifty and need cholesterol medication, sixty and require a colonoscopy, or seventy and deal with memory loss. All of these things would be preferable to dying from cancer at the early age of thirty.
I feel sad for you. And for me. For thirty-five years I have missed your presence in my life. There have been innumerable times I wanted to share my highs and lows with you. I used to imagine you coming to my grade school basketball games at Trinity Lutheran, spotting me on the court in my baby blue uniform and my white Nike high-tops running fast the way you taught me. All those free throws we practiced in the parking lot of the Catholic church paid off. My high school coach told me my form was pure.
High school bored me, but playing sports kept me out of trouble. It was my coach who helped me recover after I tore my ACL junior year and learned I would not be able to play in college. After that I didn’t know what path to follow. I wish I could have talked to you. I wonder if you would have been a good listener. You always seemed to be when I was young.
I always followed my instinct – even if, at times, it appeared to be leading me nowhere. I made some poor choices, but when I honed in on my gut feeling I could rectify them. One time this was true was when I almost married the wrong person. We were not a good fit, complete opposites. But I liked the attention he gave me and his affectionate family was something I longed for. But I stayed true to me. That was something you modeled for me.
I’ve never stopped wanting to make you proud. That desire has been the fuel that carried me forward. I had to be more tenacious, more driven, and motivated to flourish. I fought on, knowing that you would want me to be strong like you were to the very end. You believed in me and wanted me to believe in me – which is the best gift a parent can give their child.
So much has changed that I wish I could share with you. I married a man who delights in treating me like a queen. You both share a similar zest for life and a witty sense of humor. He has been my rock, Dad. He has given me a peaceful place to find myself and the freedom to be me. We have two remarkable boys who make me feel emotions I have never experienced before. So many of their characteristics remind me of you – their charming prankster ways especially! I think you would enjoy watching me be a parent. And recently, I found my inner girl. I always felt like your princess, but now I enjoy dressing up and playing the part too. I wonder what you would think of your fashionable, feminine tomboy.
I miss our shenanigans. Raising my boys, I instinctively mimicked the fun times we had together. I incorporated some tough love, like you did, but always much more affection. There have been many moments when I knew you were still with me in spirit. One particular time comes to mind. I was feeling overwhelmed with parenting my four and five-year-old and on the way to their preschool a regal looking buck appeared by the roadside. I stopped. He stopped. And we both stared each other directly in the eyes. At that instant, I felt you telling me what I needed to hear: “Never give up Buttercup!”
See you in the funny papers, Dad.
© Copyright Shannon Hogan Cohen, August 2019