Sometimes, one year seems to pass in the blink of an eye. Other times it feels like time stands still.
This past year felt a little bit like both to me.
On February 22, 2018, my dad died in my arms after living with stage four prostate cancer for ten years. I held my dad in my arms and sang to him the very same lullabies he sang to my sister and me when we were little girls, whispering to us gently that it was time to go to sleep.
And that’s exactly what I told my dad as he took his last breaths.
He was the kind of dad that daughters dream about and the kind of grandpa (“Pa” is what his grandkids called him) that kids can’t get enough of. He was *that* guy. He made us feel safe, nurtured, and loved. He was big, strong, handsome, and fiercely protective. He was brilliant. He was silly, fun, and hilarious.
He did Herculean feats: he was a star defensive lineman in high school; he was an amateur boxer; he galloped off to rescue me when I was 4-year-old on my runaway horse; he hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day, alone; he went portaging in the deep woods of Canada carrying a canoe on his head; he studied quantum mechanics and was a quantum physics junkie; he earned his Master’s degree in his 50’s; he wrote a mystery novel; he faced his cancer head-on; and he loved to tell everyone that he ran 13 miles a day and could bench press 240 lbs.
And he did everyday things that felt Herculean to my sister and me as little girls. He hoisted us high up onto his shoulders when we couldn’t see or were too tired to walk; he carried us into bed after falling asleep in the car on the way home; he played games with us over and over and over again; he helped us with seemingly impossible homework; he was always there for us, no matter the issue at hand, no matter how big in scope or size.
He taught us how to throw a ball, to throw a punch, to catch, to run, to shake hands, to fish, to mow the lawn, to be strong, to be fearless, to have grit, determination, and confidence, and to get back up again. He encouraged us to be anything we wanted to be.
He was proud of us all and not only did we know it, but we felt it. As a dad, he never missed a gymnastics meet, a swim meet, or a horse show. And as a Pa, he never missed a chorus concert, a swim meet, or a dance recital.
And he gave us permission to question everything and never take things at face value. He pushed us to figure things out for ourselves and taught us the importance of learning through critical thinking and creative problem-solving. It used to drive my sister and me crazy, but man, was he was so right.
And he was smart – and not just regular smart, but really, ridiculously smart. He had a mind that was a wonder. There were a few things he didn’t know. He was an engineer by degree, and he designed and built radar systems as a career. He would read Science News and watch shows like Nova, Frontline, and the Cosmos. We would discuss the universe, consciousness, Fast Fourier Transforms (FFTs), Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), quantum physics, his fruit trees, current events, history, math – you name it. He thrived on discussions and welcomed debate and would do so with anyone that was up for it.
There are only a handful of people in our lives that can make us not only think, but change our minds too and my dad was one of them. Despite saying he was “frequently wrong, but never in doubt”, he was actually “never in doubt, and frequently right.”
Being a parent is the hardest job in the world and my dad, well, he nailed it.
There is so much more that could be said about the dad he was, the husband he was, the Pa he was, the father-in-law he was, the friend he was, and the remarkable human being he was but that would take infinity, something I’m sure my dad had an equation for.
We have a special saying in our family: GISS. It stands for Goodnight, I love you, Sweet dreams, See you in the morning. And while my dad was peacefully taking his last breaths in my arms one year ago, I told him GISS one last time, with a slight twist at the end. I whispered gently in his ear Goodnight, I love you, Sweet dreams, and See you on the other side.