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Seven Year Ache

September 28, 2011

[NB: this is totally personal and totally off-topic, but it’s still my blog, and I claim editor’s prerogative. Besides, if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going, and I never know where I’m going.]

Seven years ago today I was perched on the edge of my father’s hospital bed, understanding that it was over. He’d lost his fight, I was losing my dad, and it was all terrible and terribly banal. Death is like that sometimes. Probably most of the time. Anyway. There isn’t really anything more to say about that. It’s a thing that happened, and I feel the need to mark the occasion somehow, hence this blog post, but I mean, I don’t expect anybody to remember or care or anything.

But oh, I wish you’d known him.

I’m occasionally asked where my interest in guns and conflict comes from, and I never have a good response. Of course it’s my dad, but not for the typical reasons. We never went hunting together or anything – the Weatherby that lived under the bed would probably have dislocated my shoulder – and I thought myself a massive hippie as a teenager. The gun thing came much later and was broadly unrelated to my dad.

But his Vietnam and Cold War stories left their mark. He gave me early exposure to how America acts in the world, for better and for worse. He took the time to explain why he did what he did and never treated my questions or ill-informed opinions as a nuisance, and as a result, I had an ideologically neutral introduction to international relations. I learned that America is great but imperfect, because people are great but imperfect, and that you can love your country and disagree with her at the same time.

My interest in gender equality also stems from my parents’ rather remarkable relationship. I grew up thinking there was nothing odd about having a mother who worked more-than-full-time and a father who made dinner every night. If he thought it strange or uncomfortable for my mom to be the primary breadwinner, he never let on. He didn’t treat my brother and me any differently (though Adam was the lawn mower and the game-of-catch partner – I didn’t care to be outside in Georgia summers). I was never a princess or a daddy’s girl, never made to be particularly conscious of the gender roles I was expected to play. It was only later that I realized we were a little out of the ordinary, and that not all women got to do what my mom did, and that not all girls were as lucky as I was.

There was a strength and a goodness to my father’s character that I try to emulate. It’s not that I live my life for him – that’d be a little nuts – and he was far from perfect, but my value system is based on his: Don’t whine. Solve your own problems – don’t wait for somebody to do it for you. Education is important. Everybody deserves your respect – you are no better and no worse than anybody else. The world doesn’t owe you anything; you owe it. And most importantly, above all, do the right thing no matter how hard it is. I don’t always live up to that, but I’m so grateful to have had these values instilled in me.

My dad sacrificed a lot for his family and his country, and he did it without bitterness or complaint. In the end, he died of esophageal cancer, not entirely unknown among those who spent time roaming around in Southeast Asian jungles, but also not unknown among those who drink and smoke heavily. There’s no blame to be laid; there’s just a lingering sadness, the sense that he should’ve had more time. We should’ve had more time. I have so many more questions.

Rosh Hashanah begins tonight at sundown, and it feels fitting somehow that a new year is starting today. I’ve had more success over the past year than I ever dreamed possible, and I’m only sorry he’s not here to act as my sounding board anymore. He, of course, would never dream of telling me what to do – my decisions and my mistakes have always my own to make – but he’d provide the supportive silence that allows me to find my own answers and my own way. Nevertheless, as much as I might want some kind of outside validation of my choices, I know I can stand on my own.

So thanks, Dad, for that and for everything besides. I miss you more than words can say.

Okay, so *sometimes* he put me on a pedestal, but only literally.

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9 Comments
  1. Marc Danziger permalink
    September 28, 2011 3:50 pm

    Diana, as a father I can only hope and pray that one of my children will remember me like this…

  2. Robert permalink
    September 28, 2011 3:57 pm

    As a father and a grandfather who is raising an exceptional grand daughter who is so special in my sight, this tribute to “dad” touched my heart. Rest assured he knew how successful you would become….because he raised you that way. As he watched you walk off into your own life, he knew. And he knows now through what you just wrote.

  3. September 28, 2011 4:03 pm

    [It’s not that I live my life for him – that’d be a little nuts – and he was far from perfect, but my value system is based on his: Don’t whine. Solve your own problems – don’t wait for somebody to do it for you.]

    That struck me most. I think some of us have stopped believing in good family values – and there are a million good reasons for that disillusionment -, but stories like yours gives me hope that we might some day actually understand fully that a child doesn’t just need food, clothes and a good education, but a solid foundation that imparts a lasting impression on her/him, which hopefully helps them cope with the pressing issues of life once they are on their own.

    I’m glad you had that. Shana Tova.

  4. September 28, 2011 4:04 pm

    Beautiful. Thanks for writing this.

  5. Danny Lankford permalink
    September 28, 2011 7:59 pm

    Great article, Diana. We all live foever in our influence on those we leave behind. Your mom always speaks very highly of him, and his influence is evident in the character of yourself and your brother. Take care of yourself, be well.

  6. September 28, 2011 11:00 pm

    Wow. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Idi0m permalink
    September 29, 2011 1:26 am

    […] He took the time to explain why he did what he did and never treated my questions or ill-informed opinions as a nuisance, and as a result, I had an ideologically neutral introduction to international relations. I learned that America is great but imperfect, because people are great but imperfect, and that you can love your country and disagree with her at the same time[…]
    Well said in memory of a good man.

  8. September 29, 2011 9:29 pm

    Diana,

    You are such a wonderful writer – and I somehow felt like I could feel your dad as I read this piece – he seemed almost like a palpable presence, and to me that is the mark of a remarkable writer – someone who can make their memories come alive on page. It’s also a sign of how you really do write from your heart, particularly in memory of your father. Big hugs to you D.

  9. elaine nelson permalink
    September 30, 2011 12:09 am

    Everything your Dad stood for he praticed for all the years I had know him. He never judged people and treated them with respect. I also am proud to have know him. He never made me feel bad becuase I was overweight or a female, He was my friend and I will always have a special place for him in my heart. With all his ups and downs he was always Danny to me.

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