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Melissa Chapman

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Happy Birthday, Daddy -- Wherever You Are

Posted: 01/24/2013 5:15 pm

I want to write something really profound today. I want to convey just how unique, impactful and truly lovable my father was on this day that he would have turned 70. I'm also smack in the middle of a family vacation with my brood, having road tripped for 15 hours from NYC to Crystal River Florida for an opportunity to swim with the beautiful manatees. We expended all this time and energy ( and SCHLEPPED the dogs) for some precious moments. We are in search of an experience -- and it actually feels rather fitting and almost divine that we are doing this on the VERY DAY my dad would have turned 70 years old.

My dad was a real nose to the grindstone kind of guy, and those moments he took to revel in the things that made him happy were far too few -- of course I know this now -- but as a kid, not so much. I do remember bits and pieces from my childhood, and those times when my dad seemed perfectly in his element were on days when the sun was shining, he could crank his windows down, blast Neil Sedaka from the radio and just revel in the ordinary. I wish I could've bottled that part of his spirit. I wish I would've encouraged him to take more of those turns behind the wheel. My father was big on searching out experiences -- which makes me want to believe that perhaps he was, in some way, in the car with us these past few hours... no, I didn't feel any presence, I didn't get any specific signs, but....

More than anything, I worry that with each day in the months since his passing, I lose a bit more of him. That's the crazy part of continuing on with your life after your parent dies; it's that you have no choice but to continue. The truth is, no one wants to be around someone who is always mired in depressing sadness. It just sucks all the air out of the room. So even if I'm feeling it, I don't allow it to permeate my day in, day out discussions with friends, acquaintances or even with my siblings. I can't because if I do, I don't think I'd be able to move forward. And that's what we're all supposed to do, we're expected to get on with it; to grieve and then file it away, and only bring it out to be rehashed on "specially sanctioned-to-feel-melancholy-days," like a birthday or an anniversary

To be honest, it still feels surreal, seeing a small sign over a grave with my Father's name on it. It doesn't feel real that his body is there. And despite wanting to believe that life continues after death in some form and that he will know I am visiting his grave, I don't know if I believe it. I don't know what I believe. I do know that so much of the rituals we do after the death of a loved one are for us, the living, as a way to grapple with our overwhelming need to keep believing this person remains in some form among us.

All I do know for sure is this: how desperately I want the world to know of my father's legacy and the indelible impact his private life (while not a grandiose celebrity or world-renowned scientist) made on those who adored him. He brought a love of science fiction, Greek mythology, philosophy and yes, even had me, his daughter, talking and "tolerating" sports. He was a biblical scholar, yet completely grounded and understanding of bridging his theological studies with that of modern, secular society. And oh, he had such a wicked and dry sense of humor and if you hung around him long enough, he'd have you in stitches with his unedited commentary on everything from Howard Stern to Voltaire.

I just loved this man so unconditionally. How I wish I had more time to tell him so, just five more minutes. I'd give anything for five more minutes with my dad.

So today, on what would be your 70th birthday, daddy, I hope you are somewhere worshiping the sun, eating chicken skin and being dialysis-free and loving every minute of it. I love you and miss you. Happy birthday.

 

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