The missing years

My dad passed away peacefully on a beautiful Sunday morning 20 years ago today. These deathiversaries – as I am wont to call them – have become sacred days on my calendar and I try to celebrate my father in a special way. He loved being outdoors, so you’ll most often find me on a long walk or a stroll in some gardens. And I find myself almost always happy. That was one of my father’s most indelible traits – he was an eternal optimist. Damn him. It’s a tough act to follow for sure.

Twenty years is a big one to wrap my head around – so I did some math. That’s funny because I’m not good at math but I did figure out that I have now lived 31% of my life without my father. That’s almost a third of my life – you can check my work on that. I’m not sure why I did that because it certainly didn’t comfort me. I guess this is just my convoluted way of telling you that I have lived a long time without my father.


Lately, I’ve been imagining a conversation with him – probably over a Coors Light – his beer of choice. I would give him a recap of some of the highlights of the past two decades. (There are a lot of ways to measure 20 years.) Without a doubt, the very first thing that I would tell him is that his beloved University of Virginia Cavaliers won the NCAA National Championship in basketball in 2019. Nothing on this earth would have made him happier. Nothing. My father loved sports – as a participant and a fan. More importantly – to me at least – he was a good sport, too. He was a humble winner – although his teams didn’t do a lot of that – and he was the rarest of men – a gracious loser. No one was louder than him watching a game – well, maybe me and my sister. We inherited his sonic capacity for yelling. I don’t use that voice very often anymore – it terrifies my cat and makes my dear wife question her choices in life. Dad was always in it to win it, but was amiable in defeat and would optimistically lament, “We’ll get ‘em next time.”

Here’s an ironic sidebar. That magical night UVA captured the national championship, I watched the game alone in my condo silently while said dear wife was sleeping. You see, she cares less about sports than anyone I’ve ever known. It is one of her few flaws and I have learned to live with it. Let me remind you that that game went into overtime. Silent overtime. Granted, I was ferociously texting with my sister in California and my dear friend Chris in Charlottesville – but I didn’t make a peep. That said, I’m fairly certain that I damaged some internal organs by keeping all of that emotion inside. When the game was over and UVA had finally won THE BIG ONE, I wept with unbridled, albeit hushed joy. And I swear I could smell my father’s cologne. He was right there beside me. He still is in so many ways.

Rarer than a Bigfoot sighting – my dear wife enthusiastically cheering at a football game. (Probably because it was over.)

I would also tell my dad about the lore of the Bubba lucky charm. He had season tickets to UVA football games – no doubt where he honed his good loser skills. After he died, I kept the tickets for a few seasons. They were great seats, and it was nice to get together with Chris in Charlottesville on sun dappled fall afternoons. I don’t recall exactly how it began, but we invented a good luck ritual to use during games – the Lucky Bubba. My niece and nephew called my father Papa Bubba, and it became an endearing nickname that we all used. Chris and I decided that during each game we would be allowed three “Bubbas” to use when we needed something good to happen for UVA. We took this lark quite seriously and used our three lucky charms strategically. Sure, more often than not, UVA would still lose the game, but the Bubbas worked enough times to keep us engaged. And when a Bubba brought us to victory – well, that was the best. We still rely on Dad’s lucky charm – mostly by text. Laugh if you will, but we’ll always have that 2019 national championship.

Me (quietly) celebrating UVA’s Natty with my dad. And yes, those are of tears of joy.

I would most certainly tell my dad that I got married – real married. A lot can happen in 20 years. He would be pleased that I married a woman who shares his very best qualities. My wife is also an optimist and like my father, wakes up cheerful every morning. And like him, she is tall. My father regarded height as a virtue. He was 6’4’’ so I guess he did have a particular perspective on the subject. My wife also shares my father’s reverence for nature – particularly flowers. He had a green thumb and grew the most beautiful roses. He loved caring for them, and I can still picture his long frame bent over pruning his beauties on a hot day.

My dad was an everything’s coming up roses kind of guy, so it makes sense he had such a way with them.

I don’t know if I would tell Dad about the pandemic, but I have often thought that he would have done well with it. My dad was a resolute handwasher. He grew up dirt poor on a farm with no indoor plumbing, but I guess my grandmother instilled the importance of proper handwashing in him. He had big hands to match that tall frame and when he would come in from working in the yard, his first stop was always the kitchen sink to wash his hands. His hands were graceful, and he was never in a hurry as he scrubbed them. He was almost prayerful about it – as if he were giving thanks for the beauty of the earth and the soil between his fingers. I can just think of him washing his hands and feel peaceful.

The lucky truth is that I have a conversation with my father almost every day. These chats can run the gamut from fuchsias to flounder to Tony Soprano. My dad is in so many of the things that I love, too, and I’m sure that’s no coincidence. I don’t have to search for a connection to him – it runs deep inside me. No, I’m not the eternal optimist he was, but I am more often hopeful than not, and I think he had something to do with that. And Lord knows, I’m a good loser and I have found this to be an invaluable gift in this life.

My father had a mantra long before mantras were fashionable. He would tell us, “Only cry in victory, never in defeat.” As I kid, I thought he was talking about sports. Turns out it can be applied to all sorts of situations and his words have been a compass for me these past 20 years. And that is why should any of my tears fall today, they will gently land on the corners of a smile.

Thanks, Bubba.

I keep this photo on the bookshelf in my office. It is the essence of my father – outdoors, shirt off, cold beer in his hand and a smile on this face. Cheers, Dad! And keep those Bubbas coming – we need them in all sorts of ways.

The most happy fella

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My father, bathed in sunshine.

I’ve been thinking about Mother’s Day a lot lately. I know most folks are thinking about that this week, too, but I’m thinking about a particular Mother’s Day, 14 years ago, when a doctor told me that my father was dying of leukemia.

I just felt a collective eye-roll as you read that last sentence. Stay with me, I promise this post will not be bleak in spite of its ominous beginning. You see, anything I write about my father will inevitably be joyful because he was the most optimistic person ever put on the face of this earth.

Seriously, he made Mr. Rogers look like Debbie Downer. debbie downer

Don’t get me wrong – his optimism, especially when I was a sullen teenager, could make me want to smother him with a pillow. But these days I’m grateful for his hopeful spirit because it has certainly helped to sustain me in some hard times over the many years since his death in May of 2002.


My dad was THE eternal optimist.

My father and I didn’t have a traditional father-daughter relationship. I was never his princess and I didn’t grow up dreaming about him walking me down the aisle when I got married.

And yet he taught me some things every girl should know – how to shoot a jumper, how to crack crabs and how a roll of duct tape can fix just about anything, including the zipper on your yard-work pants.


Me and my Dad cracking crabs on the Chesapeake  Bay. I think my doll passed out.

We didn’t bond over tea parties in my playhouse or matinees at the ballet. Instead, we spent hours on the basketball court behind our house playing HORSE. Dad loved the Los Angeles Lakers and he would emulate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s famous sky hook. He always did it with color commentary, too, and he could be pretty annoying.

So it was most gratifying when I was finally able to beat him once in a while, usually with an unorthodox backwards over the head shot that was awkward for his 6’ 4” frame.

My dad loved being tall and regarded it almost as a sign of social superiority. Ironically, he grew up on a farm with horses and dreamed of being a jockey one day. Yeah, that didn’t quite work out. He never got to meet my wife but I know he would be pleased that she is 5’10”.

Our most intimate time together growing up was on Sunday afternoons watching the Washington Redskins get pummeled by their opponents. Dad really enjoyed teaching me about football – the rules and strategy and most of all, predicting which play would be called next. That’s why I am often the only woman in a room who knows what a flea flicker is. And for the football uneducated, that is not a special dog collar.


Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen was the object of my dad and mine’s affection for much of my childhood.

I loved having his uninterrupted attention for three hours and I never thought I was weird because none of my girlfriends spent their Sundays in this way. I didn’t realize for a very long time that my father was teaching me about a lot more than football on those afternoons.

Dad was a fierce competitor whether watching or playing anything. He would stand up and cheer when the Redskins scored and he would stomp his foot and cuss a little when they made a bonehead play to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory late in a game.

He taught me a lot about loyalty. Win or lose, he still loved the Redskins and after every loss would say, “We’ll get ‘em next week, Adda.” Usually we would lose the next week, too, but his enthusiasm and support for his team never wavered. He was like that with his family and friends, too – fiercely faithful.

My father, like a lot of men from his generation, had a collection of sayings that he used over and over again. His most memorable one was, “Only cry in victory, never in defeat” and it was years before I understood that he was talking about life.

And that’s exactly how he approached some huge challenges thrown at him, including losing his larynx to cancer in his early sixties and becoming disabled the last several years of his life. The once strong and cocky athlete had to use a walker to get around and could no longer drive or play his beloved golf.

And yet he never complained about it – any of it. He would certainly get frustrated at times but would always remind himself and us that, “It could be worse.” We would tease him that we would put that epitaph on his headstone one day.

My father had a quiet but indomitable faith. He grew up poor and never took anything for granted. He loved and respected nature and was happiest being drenched in sweat after working in his garden all day. And he was almost always happy.

When I was younger, I thought he was a simple man – certainly not stupid but limited in his vision of the world around him. I had to go through some difficult challenges of my own to understand that he chose to focus on what was most important to him in life and let the rest of it go. I honestly don’t think he wasted much time worrying about what he didn’t have.

He chose optimism over cynicism, sweet over bitter, and those choices have consciously and unconsciously informed many of my own choices since his death.

Sometimes it feels like he’s still sitting there beside me on the couch lifting my spirits after another disappointment. I thought about him a lot when I lost my job in January. I know his first reaction would have been to want to punch out the noxious manipulator that staged my demise but then he would have said, “Keep your chin up” and told me to remember all the good things in my life.

Oh, and then he would have told me to check my oil. He always told me to check my oil.

Damn his optimism. I can’t shake it and that’s why when a doctor told me my father was dying on that Mother’s Day so long ago, I did not cry in defeat. I knew he had lived a life far beyond his dreams, a happy life that even death could not diminish.

I cried in victory because on my very best days,  I am my father’s daughter.


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Howard Brown Ore, a happy man.