06/19/2015 07:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Finding Myself In Dad

He couldn't be there when I was born. My dad was a B-17 ball turret gunner in WWII; shot down over Rouen, France and hidden by the French Underground for 70 days. He was eventually rescued and sent home for a brief stay when I was eight months old. Returning for another tour of duty; I was 3 when he was discharged and settled in our first home. The bond was not there ... but I was happy to have a Daddy!

As the years went by, he kept a distant and strict relationship with me. There was no special connection ... be it our late start, the society of the 50s or the busyness of his career and growing family. I never knew any different.

Ten years after I was married and had two little ones, my mom suffered a heart attack. As I walked into the hospital, Daddy grabbed me in a bear hug and held on forever; breaking down in tears telling me she'd be okay. This was our moment! This is when our bond burst forth. From that day forward, he became more demonstrative with me, more interested, more talkative. We were growing closer than we'd ever been.

Daddy and I in the late 70s at the lake house.

Most women see themselves in their mothers, but I am definitely my Father's daughter. I look like him! I'm the oldest of four but the other three resemble our mom. I love being outside. Gardening and long walks were two of his passions; mine too. I'm forever optimistic ... but cautious. I can be clueless at a joke's punch line, and sometimes find not-always-funny-things hilarious ... just like my dad.

The best of times was the laughing; totally losing it with gasps and giggles and glares from all around us.

As close as my mom and I were, dad and I shared something special. I was the first to get him to open up about his war experiences. I loved working alongside him in the yard every spring, rewarded with seedlings and plants for my own garden.

Over 20 winters spent on Myrtle Beach and along the Florida coast, Daddy discovered beach walking. For most of those years, I made it a tradition to visit them around Valentine's Day. He had me walking four to six miles in each direction ... it's not easy walking on sand! The rest of the seasons, he'd do the same thing in his suburban Detroit neighborhood, paying no attention to rain, wind, chills or humidity...he needed his morning walk. As I begin my seventh decade, I still do 5Ks, ride my bike and walk on beaches whenever I can.

Here I am with my parents three months before he passed away.

He never slowed down because of aging. Sure he had arthritis, surgeries and procedures that come with growing older ... but he'd quickly bounce back each time. He made his fourth trip to Australia when he was 75. He wrote my mom a birthday poem for most of their 60 years together. I love to travel and although I don't do poetry, I'm a writer and note-giver. Little love notes to my grandkids, the laundry lady, the neighbors.

He was a workhorse well into his 80s. He mowed his own lawn, cut down trees and cleaned the gutters on an early spring day. And then he came inside to help with the vacuuming. No big deal for dad, this is how he lived. Mom called 911 when he couldn't catch his breath. We all went home, sure it was a heart attack given his family history. I flew in late and offered to sit with him during the night so the others could get some rest. "It's my lungs," he said. "Doc says my heart's in good shape ... I've been thrown a curveball!"

I held his hand as we laughed and reminisced and he told me his decision not to go on a ventilator. He'd said his goodbyes and he was at peace. I was still holding his hand when the beeping interrupted my dozing. And he was gone .... just like that. Not only am I grateful that I had him so long and that we found our close bond; but that I could be there when he died. Mostly, I'm so very proud and thankful to be who I am because of you, Daddy!

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

The Moment I Knew I Wasn't Young Anymore