"You're just like your father," my mom laughed as she shook her head at me. At the time, I was rubbing my eyes in a tired daze; I had been up for hours the night before, turning my to-do list over and over in my head, before finally succumbing to sleep.
I'd been compared to my father before -- many times, in fact. After his memorial service, in May of 2012, I sat with a few of my parents' friends, regaling them with some tale or other. One member of my audience complimented me when he remarked, "It's just like sitting with your dad, the way you can tell a story."
My dad and I looked nothing alike. He was short, with dark skin, black hair and greenish-yellowish eyes. I'm tall and have my mother's Nordic coloring. But looks aside, I'm all Dad. Brash, outspoken, liberal to a fault and shamelessly loyal, I'm my father's daughter. We both struggled with minds that are continuously in motion; thus, the inability to fall asleep at night. He used jazz to lull him to dreamland, while I depend on pharmaceuticals.
"Planning is half the fun!" he used to say. Dad was always brainstorming our next family trip, or contemplating his next investment. Similarly, I have my family's plane tickets booked through 2015.
My father was easily bored and always curious: Though he was invited to be a member of Mensa, his short attention span made traditional education a Sisyphean task. Instead, he was an autodidact, taking cameras apart and putting them back together, learning about financial markets through trial and error (and lots of research), and embracing tech and all things Apple early on. He never finished college, but was successful enough to retire at the age of 50.
I relish the thought of being similar to my father. Since he is no longer alive, I am always looking for ways to keep his spirit close, whether it's with his shirt hanging over the back of my desk chair or through the stories I'm constantly telling my children to keep memories of their grandfather alive in their minds. But in the three years since his passing, I've realized that there are also ways in which I am not like my father... yet.
For one thing, he had the answer to everything. Partly due to natural intelligence, but mostly on account of his insatiable hunger for knowledge, Dad read everything. He spent hours scouring various journals, newspapers and magazines, and as a result, he could discuss most topics with ease. We all turned to Dad with questions, especially my husband and brother-in-law, who often grappled with career and financial advice.
Dad also had a way of commanding attention. His jovial manner, sharp wit and warm laugh meant that he always sat at the head of the table and could steer the conversation with ease.
I can't say that I've become either wise or commanding myself since his passing. What has happened has been much more remarkable than that. In his absence, in the same way that water will seep in and gradually fill a hole, my family and I have pooled our emotional resources to fill the void left behind. My mom now occupies his seat at the head of the table, and has become just as adept at entertaining and commanding attention as my dad (which is quite a feat for a woman who, by nature, is more quiet and reserved). My husband and brother-in-law now turn to each other -- and to my sister and me -- for guidance and advice. This doesn't mean that we don't each wish Dad were still here every single day. Our grief lives on, but our resilience triumphs.
Dad would be so proud to see how we've come together, and grown, since his passing. I imagine him sitting back, with a big smile on his face, marveling at how we've healed and how we've taken his biggest dream -- prizing family above all else -- and made it a reality.
I may not be exactly like my dad, but I'm still learning and growing every day -- with the help of all the other people he taught, advised and loved so very much.