Today would’ve been your birthday. You’ve would’ve been 69. I know, technically you are, but it’s not the same.
See, this post was not supposed to come out today. It was not supposed to be some letter that you can’t even read. It was supposed to be a post about you. What a great person you are. What a great father. It was supposed to shine a little light on someone who lived their life gracefully in the shadows of others. And you were supposed to read it. I think you would’ve been excited to read it and probably a little fearful because we both know I love doing things that make my family uncomfortable. (Of note: Yes, I was tempted to make a joke about your age because I would have gotten that look from you, that look I got so many times when I did or said something that embarrassed the family. You’re welcome, by the way, for not doing that.) Anyway, this was supposed to be something for you that others could read if they wanted to. I needed it to be perfect though. So I pondered it. Wrote it and rewrote it. Because I thought I had time.
Then in July, you told me you had lung cancer. Even then, there was supposed to be more than two months.
You’ll never know how much it meant to me that during those first two weeks of August when I was down in SC, that I was able to go with you as you started your radiation treatments. How awesome it was to stay up together watching Braves baseball way past my bedtime. I loved how you laughed when I kept calling the pillow I bought you your “anus pillow.” I also loved that you finally reached that point where you said “Can’t you stop saying the word anus?” because who really should have to say that to their adult son? I also treasured our hug goodbye, when I saw you cry for only the third time in my life. I’m sorry that I held back my tears. It wasn’t on purpose. I just refused to believe that it would be the last time we would see each other.
Mom told me that you stopped eating the day after I left. I guess that’s when it became clearer. Do you remember our last talk on the phone? Somehow it managed to fill and break my heart at the same time because it felt . . . final. Turns out it was, because you died on Saturday.
Anyway, I wasn’t a fan of your funeral. Well, the people were wonderful and it was awesome to see that the person I loved and respected was appreciated by many people. But the music at the funeral home was awful. I tried to get them to switch to some Frank, Tony, beach music, or even Denise Williams, but they only had CDs of more painfully terrible music. Honestly, I don’t think you would’ve minded that much, but it was easier for me to focus on something like that, rather than the fact that my dad was lying in a coffin.
In terms of the service, it was nice – but, no lie, I was super annoyed that so much of the service was about God. I mean, at one point I assumed it was God who died instead of you. I get that God should be mentioned, but seriously, he or she is not lacking for attention. There’s like 80 billion versions of their book, plus they have entire religions. I think God’s good. Then the rest of the service seemed to really be about the mourners and heaven – which again, I get, but it still bothered me. I wanted it to be about you, and I wasn’t the only one.
So that’s why I’m writing this now. This letter is all about you. Well, also kind of about me because I’m writing through the lens of knowledge and experience of you, Sleeve Slanker, my dad. Here are the things I’ll always remember.
I admired the fact that you were like a 50-sport star in high school. I mean, seriously, there aren’t even really 50 sports, so how can you be good at all of them?
I loved that you married my mom and became a dad for me and Chris. You filled a hole in our family that needed filling. You made us complete.
It was awesome that you could truly rock a mustache (and that’s coming from someone who can’t even grow one). And when you went through your “beard years,” I mean, you kind of looked like a lumberjack accountant – but it was still pretty cool.
It meant the world to me that you and mom never missed anything that Chris and I did. You two always showed up, and we never doubted that we were loved.
I was amazed by how much you enjoyed practicing your handwriting. I remember the nights, as a kid, that I would go back into the den and you would be writing down all of our names, random words, or the entire roster of the Clemson football team. And your handwriting, Slanker, was impeccable.
I appreciate the fact that when I told you you were the head coach of all my fantasy football teams and then regaled you with pointless stories about our victories or losses, you listened and even asked questions. I also thought it was cool that you found it funny that you walked the sidelines with a styrofoam coffee cup wearing a shower skirt.
Ah, yes the shower skirt. The only person I’ve ever known to swear by the power of the shower skirt. It was the weirdest and coolest thing in the world. I still remember the look of glee in your eyes when you opened your Christmas present and saw a blue shower skirt with the name Slanker on it. Mom was probably happy because it meant you got rid of your ratty green one. Who are we kidding, you didn’t get rid of it because you never really got rid of anything.
I’m glad that you didn’t get mad at me when I could not stop laughing when you were under the house fixing god knows what and Jack (our dog) trapped you under the house and started humping your head.
I remember many years later, when life had taken its toll on Jack and we were having to put him to sleep, crying with you as we watched Jack’s eyes close for the last time. I had never seen you cry before and, in a lot of ways, you gave me permission to cry. Letting me know it wasn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.
Then there was that glorious time where I was playing video games in my room or staring at the wall (either or) and Mom was taking a bath and you started banging on one of the living room walls yelling “No! No! No!” Mom came rushing out of the shower in her bathrobe and yelling “What is it, Steve!?” You turned to her as you stood there in your ratty green shower skirt and said “Sammy was scratching the furniture!” (Sammy was a cat, by the way.) I love that you picked him up when you found him as a kitten hiding at the Direct gas station.
Speaking of Mom in a bathroom, thanks for not kicking me out of the house when I rudely interrupted . . . well, you know, that one time. The locked screen door should have been a clue, but I probably chose to ignore it because I found it funny. Yet, somehow, you still loved me.
I remember waking up in the hospital as a teenager after a serious surgery with you holding my hand with Mom standing behind you, her hands on your shoulders. I was scared but not as much after that because you were there.
I remember, in college, when I was about to drop a class because I was failing and didn’t want to do a paper that I hadn’t started on and was due the next day, that you listened to me calmly and told me to do what I wanted. Then you told me that you were extremely disappointed in me because I was better than that. Even though we got off the phone at 9 that night, I started and finished that paper. Even ended up with a B+ in that class. And it was all because the thought of disappointing you was not something I could do.
After I moved to Wisconsin, one of my favorite things was calling you on my way home from work or Target. Those conversations were the best even when they were seemingly about nothing. Thinking about the fact that I won't have those anymore is something avoid doing at all cost.
I have a million other stories, and I bet if you were alive you would probably ask me “You don’t expect me to read all of this, do you?” so I’ll end with one more thing.
I’m so thankful that I was blessed to have you as my father. You weren’t perfect (and I’m sure you would be thinking, “Yeah, no shit. Who is?”) – but you were our perfect. You taught me how to be a better person, the importance of trying your best to come through for those you care about, to put others first, and never to give up on those you love. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the retirement that you deserved, and I’m really sorry that I didn’t get that one more time seeing my dad would eventually be one last time.
I love you and I miss you. Thanks for letting me be your son and always loving me for who I was.
Happy Birthday Dad.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.