Messages From Dad

I miss both of my parents every day. My dad died 25 years ago; my mom has been gone 8 years. Twenty-five years is a long time. I was able to make 17 more years of memories with my mom. Memories with my dad haven’t faded so much as they are farther back. More effort is required to revisit them.

I have hit the age where more people in my age group have lost a parent. We share our hurt. I also know people who have both parents still living and they don’t see or talk to them very often. I don’t wish them ill will. I’m thrilled they are still alive. It’s wonderful these friends and acquaintances don’t know the searing pain of losing a parent. They don’t live with grief that runs deep and long. But still, I feel it’s unfair that I’ve lost both. My parents were older. They developed health problems. They died. We all know life isn’t fair.

A while back, I was wishing for something from my dad. My mom pops up often in dreams and waking memories. I don’t get a lot of that from my dad. Time passed factors into it. I put it out there that I wanted to hear from him. In dreams, or signs, or messages, or something. Anything. I miss him a great deal. I don’t think it’s said enough how much adults still need parental love.

One of my routines before crawling into bed is to read for a few minutes. I settled one night into an oak rocker in my bedroom that I picked up at an estate sale. It’s solidly made and has a simple patterned upholstered seat and back. Soft lighting provided by a Tiffany like lamp with shades of blues and greens lit the corner of my bedroom. I rocked gently and read.

At one point, I turned my head to the left toward the table where the lamp sat.

And there he was.

.

.

.

Not as a ghost, hallucination, or in any human form. I saw his handwriting poking out from a small stack of treasures that has sat there between five to ten years.

It had been there every night. His handwriting jumped out this night when I needed a sign.

It was a 3 x 5 notecard that had completely browned over time. My father served in WWII. This could have fit in his wallet but I’m not sure it did because it wasn’t bent. If not in his wallet, it was likely in a desk drawer or the top drawer in the chest where a lot of papers and some jewelry were kept. I’m not sure where I discovered it. I felt it was important and I took it. Clearly, I also forgot about it, but here it was to remind me when I needed it. It was one of those moments mixed with smiles and a slow but steady flow of tears. He had copied a quote from Winston Churchill about wartime living on the notecard.

I pulled the notecard out with my thumb and index finger like one would in a magic trick where you picked any card from cards splayed in front of you like a fan. I read it slowly as if it were a riddle, for that was what it felt to me. The word defiance hit me stronger than the others. I don’t want to dwell in the battle imagery that many who live with cancer use and just as many find cringeworthy. But hey, there it was staring at me in the face. These words were about war, not cancer. Exceptions must be made. If anyone has applied them to cancer, it’s me.

Allow me to say I don’t feel I am in defeat. I feel beat up. I feel constantly up against some stupid cancer or noncancer thing. I feel like I can’t get through to the very people working to keep me alive. I feel exhausted and that I never can catch a break. I feel defiant though and unwilling to give an inch more to cancer.

As far as the other words are concerned, I’m always searching for resolution. Mainly, I search at my oncology appointments through time with my oncologist and all the tests and treatments I do. But I look for answers in so many places. I read articles. I follow leads on the internet. I make note of studies others are in that may be of some benefit to me. There are group chats. I talk to and message friends. Virtual conferences are attended such as the SABCS (San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium) and LBBC (Living Beyond Breast Cancer). Occasionally, I’ll listen to a podcast. To be honest, it all overwhelms me. My days can’t be only about metastatic breast cancer.

Magnanimity and good will are always good guiding words. Generosity and compassion should never be overlooked. We need both in our world now more than ever.

I set the card back on the side table and shuffled through what else was in the small stack. There was a prayer book with a daily reflection I’d given my mom one year for her birthday. I found some of my dad’s business cards and his resumé. There is a grief journal I started after my mom died. The journal deserves a separate post of its own.

I also found the last birthday card I gave my dad along with more of those smiles and loving tears.

The middle section jumped out to me where it read he knew in his heart that I’d find a way. I realize I chose the card, but it was chosen based on who he was. I always knew my dad’s belief in me was present and constant whether whatever I did was big or small. I’m sure it’s why I chose this particular card. He knew I’d do well on tests. He thought it was great I played tennis. He supported all my band activities. He happily shuttled me back and forth from college to home on weekends. My dad knew I’d find a way. As evidenced on this card, even as a young adult the idea of finding a way was developing, perhaps just a seed of the oak tree pictured on the card. I would have to find my way a lot sooner without him.

A few weeks later he came to me again, this time in a dream. I was at my grandma’s farmhouse in the kitchen, milling around where the cookie jar was kept. Ah, that cookie jar. My grandma, mom, and dad were all in the dining room. Dad called for me to come into the living room. As I got closer to the adjoining doorway, everything went bright white and I couldn’t see. I knew my dad was going to hug me. I kept inching forward into the blinding light. Eventually, I shuffled into him and we hugged. I felt warm all over and felt a tight squeeze of his arms around me. I couldn’t see anything. Then I was jolted awake. I always wake up too soon. I am convinced it was a real hug from him. Make of that what you will.

I got my sign, my message, my something. I received several. Thanks, Dad.

You are there for me.

Always.

Doom Dibbling or Hope Harvesting

Have you ever heard of a dibble?

How about a doom dibbler?

I was truly lucky to have my amazing dad in my life for 26 years.

I am equally fortunate that I carried over so many valuable memories and words of wisdom into my life today. Too many to share here, but there are a few that lend themselves effortlessly to being hopeful and resilient.

My father used many inspiring sayings that have stayed with me over the years. I don’t feel I experienced a lot of hardships growing up, but he would often fall back on the tried and true, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” Apparently, this phrase is attributed to either JFK’s father or Knute Rockne. My dad would say it whenever I needed a little extra encouragement and the impossible loomed. My dad thought most things were possible. Sending the tough on its way has a lot to do with resiliency. A resilient person has the courage to bounce back and deflect tough things because he or she is tougher. Being tough and strong is the only choice. Some see this as stubbornness. I take those words as a compliment because the tough has to get going. So long, tough. You are not welcome here. Get going and be gone. My inner toughness will prevail.

My father was one of the pivotal hopeful figures in my life. He made me feel like I mattered every day. His positive outlook and upbeat attitude were repeated over and over from people who knew him at his visitation and funeral. I already knew these things, but it is so important that he spread hope to others. I believe that it’s part of his legacy. What qualities did he have that made me feel like I mattered? He was always in my corner. He spent time with me every day and sang me bedtime songs. He read to me. He loved watching me play tennis, win or lose. He drove me back and forth from home to college almost every day during my fifth year so I could live at home and save money. He drove me to job interviews and waited in the car until I was done. We had good talks. He made me laugh. He really believed I could do anything.

Another one of his key phrases was not to be a doom dibbler. JFK’s dad or Knute had nothing to do with this one. It is an original Dad concept! Really, I never thought dibble was even a real word. He had a way of mispronouncing things and getting some words wrong. He was raised in a German-speaking home so this was typical for him. I figured he had made it up, but I knew what he meant. Much to my surprise, dibble actually is a word! As a verb, it means to make a hole in the soil with a tool (from the noun called a dibble) for seeds or young plants. His background was in farming and agriculture, so now I understand doom dibbling on a whole new level.

He knew exactly what he was saying.

My dad didn’t just want me to stop whining about something and have a positive outlook.

He didn’t want me to plant that seed of doom that would grow larger and larger.

Doom dibblers get bogged down in negativity and worry. Constant emphasis on what undoubtedly will go wrong becomes toxic and central to their world. Are you thinking Debbie Downer? Womp-womp. Nothing is or ever will be right. What if the worst happens? It becomes central to their identity as a doom dibbler. Doom is quite an ugly word. Do not be a doom dibbler.

Become a hope dibbler instead. Perhaps a hope harvester better expresses the sentiment. Emphasis on the positive spreads that energy in the world. Use whatever dibble you have to plant the seed of HOPE and watch it grow. What if it all works out? Imagine all the wonderful possibilities. My dad knew a lot about hope. Yep, he definitely was a hope harvester.

My dad also had a habit of writing me notes that I’d discover tucked away in my slippers when I was home for the weekend or he’d mail them to me in college. Little stick figure sketches of himself, our dog, or Bucky Badger were included. A twenty-dollar bill was usually clipped to the notes. Little words of wisdom were also included. We were a close family who spoke regularly and saw each other every weekend. Yet, he’d still send weekly letters filled with words of hope and wisdom. Hope was a message in almost every note I saved. Usually the notes began that he hoped all was well. He was so eager to hear about school and support my studies in any way he could.

“You are such an outstanding young person. Do share with us all your accomplishments.”

Well, shucks. See what I mean about him being in my corner? These notes were my own personal cheering section. I cherish them now more than ever. Yes, I’ve kept them. His hopeful words and messages transcend time.

On one note he wrote that smooth sailing didn’t make good sailors. (I don’t know the source for this advice. It probably isn’t JFK’s dad or Knute.) He owned a recreational motorboat before he married my mother. He kept the boat after they married, but it was used infrequently. I remember playing in it when it was stored on one half of our home’s garage. I never thought of my dad as much of a sailor, but I’ve often come back to his comment about sailing.

Sailor or landlubber, the point was that hardships help us learn and grow.

In the end, they shape our character and strengthen our spirit. Hope plays a role because you land on your feet a stronger person after going through the struggles.

Another repeated theme in his weekly notes was on the value of saving money. I always thought I had been good at saving money, but maybe I’ve been good at it because of his influence with his notes. On some notes, I’d find articles attached on investing. In one note he wrote, “You’ll find a short article on the value of investing early for retirement. I know you’re young and still going to school, but it doesn’t hurt to have your ideas focused for future investment moves. Enclosed are a few dollars.”

I hope you hit the jackpot when you were given your father. I know I did, and even though he’s been gone for over twenty years, he’s never left my heart. Some of you reading this may have had the good fortune to know him. My words really can’t do him justice. Maybe my memories have made you smile with some of your own about special people you’ve known in your life. Thank you, Dad, for all the love and hope you gave me, and for everything.

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