What we leave behind.

This one is going to be a bit heavy. I have been listening to Joni Mitchell, it’s Monday, and my dad is dying. He has been for a few years, but is really sick now and I was just texting with him and he “really just wants to make it until Christmas.” He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis about five years ago and has been steadily declining since. There were several times we thought it was the end but this time it really is. He can’t really do much at all. He gasps for air and is uncomfortable. He texts and listens to music and plans for his cremation and memorial. In the evening, if he is up for it, he gets wheeled to the car and is driven around by his partner to look at Christmas lights.

Edie has only seen my dad twice. That is enough right there to leave me heartbroken and sad. My parents divorced about 14 years ago and I didn’t handle that so well. I was mad at my dad and let that anger eat away and ruin our relationship. Not that it was ever a perfect one, but it definitely had its positives. I have a lot of regret about those missing years and our lack of closeness. Some days it really gets me down.

Edie will not remember my dad. Even now he is mostly known through pictures and texts. When I tell her that he is my dad she laughs nervously as if she doesn’t know what to do with that information. He and I have made peace as much as we can and I’m so thankful for that grace. My dad had a really tough childhood and was emotionally and physically abused in some really awful ways by his parents. When I think of this and consider what a kind and gentle parent he was I’m amazed at his strength and tenacity and love.

I learned a lot from my dad. Sure, smoking cigarettes and flirting are two of those things. Thankfully, I haven’t smoked in 14 years or so and I rarely get the chance to flirt. But, I learned some really important things too. Some of those things helped shape me as a parent and will help Edie as a person too. One way I can remember and honor him is to share with her those things and tell her about my dad and all the things he helped me learn and be.

My dad taught me to love everyone. He didn’t stand for racism and homophobia and indifference or prejudice. He is kind and anti-war and violence. He never owned a gun. He’s never voted Republican.

My dad believed that his daughters and sons were equal in intelligence and ability. My dad loves hanging out with LGBTQ folks. When I came out, all the young gays who were often rejected at home had a warm welcome, a meal, and a place to stay with us. My dad (along with my mom) would even take us all to the gay bar for a drag show.

My dad stood up to institutions like the church and challenged them on institutional biases and prejudice. Eventually the hypocrisy grew too much for him and he left those institutions behind.

My dad taught me to love good music and to sing loudly and enjoy it. Some of my fondest memories are of Simon and Garfunkel being played loudly on the record player as we all sang and danced along. To this day folk music is still the epitome of good music.

My dad loves family. Though his parents were difficult my dad made the effort over and over again to show them love and kindness and forgiveness. My dad always put my sisters and mom and I as first priority. He worked very hard to provide for us, and we wanted for nothing.

My dad loves the ocean and the beach. We didn’t grow up in a coastal state but always vacationed on the shore. He knew how to just sit and listen to the waves or Bob Dylan and chill.

My dad loves Christmas. As his health started really declining almost a month ago, one of the first things he wanted done was to have his tree put up so that he could enjoy it for one last season.

My dad is cool. He has a strut. He is a music snob. He has a wicked and irreverent sense of humor. He is a smart ass. He loves passionately and deeply.

I will miss my dad. I already do. I only hope that I can pass on to Edie some of these great things that he gave to me. I hope that some day, she will have a similar list when she writes about her Papa’s legacy.

Edit: Dad died on February 19th, 2019 at home alone. We are still in the early stages of grief and it can be brutal. He IS missed. Now, to work on my own legacy with more intention and love.

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  1. Julie Cundiff
    December 3, 2018 / 9:30 pm

    Brian, I remember vividly the things you say about Sam. He was a really important part of my life in middle and high school and I miss him tremendously. I keep a letter that her wrote me once in a drawer beside my bed. It reminds that there is always someone that loves me and to always love myself. You and your family are often in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Megan
    December 3, 2018 / 9:40 pm

    This makes me so sad. Your dad really was so welcoming to all of us when we were kids. Even in Monroeville when we all packed in to his apartment like sardines! I’ll never forget him driving us to Kara’s house in a blizzard in the minivan and nearly taking out someone’s light post in Stamford Park, or hanging out in the basement on Norway Ave listening to his records with him. I’m so glad you were able to make peace with him. Hoping you both find comfort and joy this Christmas, friend.

  3. Chris Brown
    December 3, 2018 / 10:57 pm

    Reading through your letter takes me back to my chilhood and youth group at Riverview United Methodist. Your father had a profound impact on the youth in our area. The thing I remember most was that it was okay to question, think, and reason your own way to faith. A relationship with God is a personal one that should not be bound man made limitations but should be founded in one thing “love”.
    Prayers for Sam and you and your family

  4. Jonathan Kearns Cooper-Wiele
    December 4, 2018 / 6:48 am

    Beautiful. You have painted a portrait such that I feel I know him. Clearly, he actively and consciously lived the inclusiveness to which many of us inspire and that, I take it, in a region where many rejected it. So he was a person not only of conviction but of courage in order to take public stances on his convictions. Edie already knows him in the most important flesh and blood way possible, through you (and, of course, Tim as well). Please let us know what we may do to assuage your grief.

  5. Larry Fizer
    December 10, 2018 / 9:15 am

    Very well put Brian. You have grown to be the man that Sam would have wanted you to be. Thats the highest Compliment I can give you. You have a Beautiful family. I love Looking at your pictures..especially of your Adorable little girl. Thank you for Sharing. I am very Proud of you too.

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