December 20 will always be one of those uncomfortable anniversaries for me: it’s the anniversary of the day that my father passed away. When that crossed my mind today, as it inevitably does, I realized that today makes it 25 five years since his death.
When my dad got sick, he left our home in Shelby to get treatment at the VA Hospital in Helena. He came back in November, just in time for the first bumps of chicken pox to appear on my arms. That week he was home, he was my caretaker, putting lotion on my skin, telling me stories, and tying an old pair of boxing gloves on my hands when I wouldn’t stop scratching. The whole time he was dying, being consumed by a cancer that put him in unimaginable pain. His last night home we watched football together–just the guys–and he read to me as a I fell asleep. My last memory of him is waking to see him crying quietly in his chair, either from the pain, or from knowing that he wouldn’t be coming back.
The next morning he was gone, back to the hospital, and six weeks later, he was gone forever.
My dad wasn’t a perfect man. He drank too much, and sometimes his ego was more than a match for his ambition, but I always felt that my sister and I were the center of his life. His heart might have been bigger than his head on occasion, but even his mistakes were made out of love. He taught me how to fish, to read, to score a baseball game, and defend what I believe–everything I’ve needed to survive. More than anything, he taught me about loving with your whole heart, fiercely. For my dad, it wasn’t worth it to love any other way.
Everything I’ve become and everything I will do is because of my father.