I don’t remember if it was spring or fall, but it was THE perfect day: brilliant blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and an expanse of emerald grass that, in memory, was so much softer than any I’ve felt since. We were in the small neighborhood park tucked neatly into the ravine behind the apartment my mom and I had just moved into, a definite improvement over the house with the haunted basement we’d lived in previously.
“Higher! Push me higher!” I cried, laughing with the exhilarating joy that only flying in a swing can bring.
It was just us two: Dick, my mom’s boyfriend, and me, and I was thrilled to have him all to myself. To me, he looked just like the man on my favorite TV-show, Grizzly Adams. For being only 5-years-old, I had a mighty big crush on that man and his bear. Dick had the same wild 70’s hair, bushy beard, and the kindest, most beautiful blue eyes you’ve ever seen.
I don’t know how it came about, but sometime on that idyllic “date” together, I asked a simple question:
“When are you going to be my daddy?”
It wasn’t until years later that I learned how my innocent but sincere question had almost been their undoing.
“HOW could you put her up to that?!” he had demanded, thinking she was using me to get to him.
“How could YOU think I would?!” she’d shot back.
Luckily for all of us, the matter was cleared up, and one day not long after he did become my daddy.
As with most true-life tales, the years were not always easy. There were job changes, a brother added “for me,” years when the bottle called louder than family, frequent moves, diabetes, strokes… The cute little stepdaughter evolved into a ‘tween and then a teen with a heart and mind of her own, certain that she no longer mattered like she once had.
Throught it all, he was always “my dad,” the only one I’d ever known, and I was his “daughter,” but there was a little less connection and more hurt feelings as only a teenage girl can collect. He stopped drinking my senior year and again became the husband and father we’d once known.
He walked me down the aisle – twice – never judging me for my mistakes along the way. He towed vehicle after vehicle I managed to blow up, working long hours to get me up and running yet again during my stint as a single mom. Any hard feelings I’d ever had melted away as he became the world’s absolute best grandpa to my kids and friend to my husband.
Today marks one year – 365 long days – since he left us. In some ways it feels like an eternity and in others just a moment ago.
One year since I’ve looked into those gorgeous blue eyes of his, and even longer since I heard his voice, the emphatic “I love you” he always gave when it was time for me to leave, leaning forward for his hug from the recliner on good days, from his bed on the bad.
We never really talked about the hard years we’d had – each of us too hesitant to dredge up the sometimes painful past, I think – but I know without a doubt that he loved me, and I only hope he knows how much I loved him in return.