More Magical than Santa Claus

My dad was more magical to me than Santa Claus. I know it’s April but the magic of Christmas never goes away. It fades a little but children hope and wait for Christmas all year. There is a magic and a tingle of anticipation that comes with Christmas that comes at no other time and because of that, so many children are in love with Santa Claus. He is the epitome of generosity, warmth, kindness and joy. He exudes peace and hope and love. He makes you smile just to think of him. That is not Santa Claus – that is my dad.

There was something otherworldly about him. I knew – I mean KNEW – that my dad loved me more than he loved himself. Even when I was in trouble I still knew. And I knew that more than just loving me, my dad even LIKED me. My siblings will absolutely agree – he felt that way about all of us. He was willing to sacrifice absolutely anything for us. As I write this, I get the feeling that everyone feels like that about their father, but I am not really doing it justice. He appeared to be an ordinary man but this was simply his alter ego. Underneath that facade of normality was a man of incredible strength, faith, love and talent. My dad was extraordinary in his love for us. My dad was an extraordinary man. I am sad that I won’t be able to make you see just how extraordinary in the time I have.
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My father provided for all nine of us a stable, loving, secure home. Never once did we feel anything but love. We struggled with money and yet, I never felt starved or needy. My dad worked his tail off, getting up at 4 and coming home past 7. Decades of working a job that he was very good at and with people he loved, but a job that he hated. Winters where he would leave when it was dark and come home after the sun went down – never seeing the light of day. He gave up his dreams of illustrating as a profession so that he could be sure to provide for the children he loved. Did I mention he worked an hour away from home? But even though he worked so many hours a day, we never felt deprived because his time at home with us was so special.

As a very little girl, I would ask my dad to give me a kiss before he left for work in the morning, sometimes leaving notes on his pillow. I lived for those kisses. And when he came home in the evening, I would race my brothers to the front door, grab a hold of his legs and scream “MY daddy!!!!” When we were sick, we would curl up against him and ask him to put his giant paw on our heads or bellies because he gave off so much body heat. He was such a hot-box that in the hospital Monday morning – even more than an hour after he had been declared dead, his body was still warm. I snuggled his cheek to feel the scratch of his whiskers and rubbed the scar on his neck and it felt like he had just come inside on a cold day.

My heart aches. It aches to think that my children are going to grow up without him. They only had a few short years (months in Joe’s case) to get as many bear hugs and scruffly kisses as they could. Bo recently discovered the classic monster movies and the two of them spent hours watching them. Bo would ask a million questions and Papa was more than happy to answer each and every one. Bo’s greatest regret right now is that they never got to watch Dracula together.

My dad got to babysit all three of my kids on his own a couple weeks ago and even though they put him through the ringer, (I mean, when he asked Maggie to clean up the soup she spilled, she got mad and promptly peed on the floor. He made her clean that up too), he was delighted to hear them ask when he was going to watch them again. He cuddled and soothed crying babies and reminded me every chance he got how blessed I was no matter how grumpy, demanding or difficult my children were. He has donned big bad wolf masks for story time, lovingly passed down stories of his family and childhood and even waxed philosophical with my two and four year olds with questions like “Is Frankenstein’s monster the real villain or Frankenstein the scientist?” Every one of his grandchildren was in love with him and he was in love with them. Boy did that man love children.

So many memories. Things I don’t want to forget. Things I am afraid I will forget. Like my dad hiding behind the curtain in the delivery room so he could be the first to hold his first granddaughter. Or the time Patrick asked him for permission to marry me and he got up and mowed the lawn without saying a word. The time I called him to catch a mouse in my house and he insisted on trapping it and releasing it on the outskirts of town. The way he stubbornly mispronounced words. How I could feel my children relax in my arms at the sound of his voice. His very particular way of sketching something. His unique parenting technique of “evenly distributing the yeses and the no’s.” The way he would call us “stink weed” and his silent, open mouth laugh when something was really funny. His love pats. His giant bear hugs. His smell. His voice.

But there is one thing I will never forget. I cannot forget. His unwavering faith in Christ. I can’t forget this because my parents – both of them – have etched this into my very being. Even as a child, when I was afraid of the end of the world and pretty much everything else, my father taught me to trust wholeheartedly in God’s plan. This was not the naive lesson taught by a man who had never had to struggle in life – this was the advice of a man seemingly mistreated by life. A rocky childhood. Losing a sister at an early age. The SIDS death of an infant son which he blamed himself for. Standing by while his 16-year-old son has a heart attack and then 9 years later, losing that son to another heart attack. Losing his mother and stepfather in the same year. Holding me up through the diagnosis and stillbirth of my daughter Luna. Treating my sister’s multiple miscarriages with pinto beans and cornbread. Supporting his oldest child through her struggle with leukemia for a decade and then sitting by her bedside, holding her hand when she silently slipped away. Until the very end, my father held firm in his faith – never once questioning the wisdom, love and kindness of the God he served. Always trusting in God’s plan. When life became difficult, he stepped closer to God instead of turning away. Perhaps more than anything, this is what made my dad so magical. More than anything, this is what I will remember.

I am sad to lose him, so as my mother taught me, I need something to be thankful for. I am thankful for the grace of God to give me a mother and father that would equip me to survive this life I have been given. I am thankful for every magical moment and every mystical second of my life with my father. I am thankful for the bits and pieces of himself that he left in each of his children and grandchildren – like how he left his face on Alex. I am thankful for the sacrifices he made for us. I am thankful for his hugs. And I am even more thankful that he taught me the faith that allows me to know that I will also spend eternity with him. Now if only he had taught me about patience…

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