Somewhere around here, buried in a box of photos is a picture of my Dad and me dancing. We're at a wedding he and Mama were photographing. She caught a quick picture -- if I remember correctly, he was summoned back to the camera before the dance even ended! But it's always been one of my favorites.
I wish I had it right now, to share. Because that is how I'd rather remember my Dad. Healthy, vibrant, the center of the crowd, the heart of the party, laughing and enjoying life. He squeezed every ounce of juice he could out of his time remaining, lasting longer than I really thought he would.
Dad will be missed by a lot of people. He worked with Habitat for Humanity for quite a number of years. He was active in the Triangle Photographers Association and the Professional Photographers of Ohio. He had a photo studio in Canton, Ohio. He took yearbook photos of a lot of my classmates at Timken, among other schools in the area. He photographed a lot of area brides and families.
It was because of his business first operating out of our home, that I learned about the student exchange program which sent me to Chile, South America for a year. He had a client who was hosting a Columbian girl. My Dad was using his usual littany of "funny" comments trying to get the girl to smile. It dawned on me that the reason she wasn't smiling was because she didn't understand a word he was saying. I burst out with, "Sonrie!" (Spanish for "Smile!") and she grinned so wide it was like the lights just came ON!
After that, I was hooked on the power of foreign languages. Turns out, that's something I had in common with Dad -- it just took him a little longer to express it. Since the early 2000s, he had been studying Japanese. I know -- one of the hardest freaking languages out there. But, ever since he'd been evacuated to Japan when he was wounded in Viet Nam, he'd been interested in all things Japanese. He took class after class. Any time we spoke on the phone, a flood of Japanese would greet me. I would sit there, a little dazed, and then say something brilliant like, "Hi, Dad."
I read a book last year whose title caught my attention at the library. Thirty Days with My Father was written by a woman who has pretty traumatic childhood memories of her father's PTSD after his service in Viet Nam. The book takes the reader through her changing opinion of and relationship with her father. It helped me to look at my Dad's service in terms of what he went through, not how it affected me.
Dad hasn't been far from my thoughts for a very long time now. It's only been a few days since he passed, so it still surprises me to realize he's gone.
He's gone on to a better place.
He isn't in pain any more.
I find that last one gives me the most comfort right now.
On Monday, the family will gather for his service. Mama says he's getting a full military send-off, 21 gun salute and all. I may not be there in body, but I know Dad will stop by in spirit, if for no other reason than to get the party started.
Love you, Dad.