Lessons from a dad I lost too soon

The last time I saw my father was through our living room window.

He was sitting in his favorite La-Z-Boy. I pounded on the screen with my fist, but he paid no attention.

“I love you. I love you,” I said.

Finally, he looked in my direction and muttered something that I couldn’t understand. Satisfied, I walked toward the end of our driveway, where a car was waiting for me. I was leaving for the weekend to stay with my best friend and would be back on a Sunday, November 5.

When I returned home two days later, I was led to my parent’s bedroom, where my uncle and mom were waiting. Your dad got sick, they told me. We took him to a hospital. There was a little bit of a pause. “And he just … died.”

I spent a year crying myself to sleep. Without a father figure, I fumbled through my teenage years, looking for direction. After high school, I went to college to study engineering in hopes of following in my dad’s footsteps. He was a civil engineer.

My father Dave (left) playing music with a friend. (Photo courtesy of Doug Wolgat)

But it wasn’t for me. Words were what I loved.

I got a job at a newspaper after I graduated, and it gave me a sense of satisfaction that I couldn’t find elsewhere. I had purpose. People cared about what I wrote. I gained confidence. And through that, I became a man.

Next May 21 I’ll turn 34, the same age my father was when he died. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about dying at the same age. I have nightmares and sometimes wonder if the universe works in cruel ways.

But today, now that it’s been 23 years, I choose to focus on the good thoughts rather than the bad. I thank my father for the lessons his early death gave me about mortality. And I thank him for the memories I do have, rather than the ones I don’t.

And I still say I love you, even if he can’t hear me.

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17 thoughts on “Lessons from a dad I lost too soon

  1. This is absolutely beautiful. Your father was an incredibly important person in my dad’s life. There is a special sparkle in his eye whenever he tells me past stories of them together. He even named my brother after him. I have no doubt that you are making him proud by living a life of happiness without borders. So glad we were able to reconnect.

  2. Ah, craziness didn’t know about that attempt to talk before he died . 😦 I know he was crazy about all of us from what I hear . Words are important, and just being there is for me . That’s why I like writing songs . That’s why I like when u come visit at first it always seems a little spacey from lack of communication, then I get comfy right when u leave and I do pay attention to what u say and ur advice, like what u gave me the night before u left this last time. I just don’t react right away with u for some reason..weird :))) love u :))))
    From your sista, val

  3. Your Dad would be proud of the way you have turned out Jimmy. He would have been happy whatever any of his kids did. That is the way he was very unique. I remember him and I going to see your mother in Traverse City before they were married and it snowed so bad I blew the motor in Traverse. Nothing but good memories with your dad.

  4. So sorry for your loss, so early. My father’s father died at 59 and he was terribly worried it would happen to him and he shaped his life accordingly — he is insanely healthy at 83. My husband lost his Dad when he was in his 20s and is lucky enough to be able to borrow my Dad. My life has been very much shaped by my Dad and losing him will be very very difficult.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I wish he had been around to help shape me, but I’m lucky in that I have a great mom and supportive siblings. Kudos to your father for taking good care of himself. I worry about people from my generation (the fast food generation), who are already 30, 40 pounds or more overweight. It’s a borderline epidemic in the US right now.

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