The most happy fella

baseball 2

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.

the-eternal-optimist-meme

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.

crabs.jpg

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.

sonny

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.

 

dad smile.jpg

Howard Brown Ore, a happy man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Longest Day

Greetingcardsretaildisplay

I start dreading this weekend as soon as the Mother’s Day cards appear in store aisles. It’s the Great Wall of Grief for me and I try to avoid it as much as possible.

And every year since 2003, my first Mother’s Day without my mother, I’ve tried to come up with a strategy for the day. Every year I seem to have a different plan but they ultimately have one thing in common – they fail miserably in helping me through the day. mother's day

I want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone. I want to say home. I want to go out. And so it goes.

Most every Mother’s Day begins the same way for me now. I wake up, open my eyes and remember the day and then I feel this sudden churning deep in my gut– sort of like that feeling when you’re in an elevator and it descends really quickly and you try and catch yourself.

And then I cry. Sometimes softly, but sometimes I sob. I think about going to Harrisonburg, VA and taking my mother out to brunch at the Country Club. I think about what she would wear. My mother never really owned any casual wear and she always looked so stylish and elegant when we went out.

I think about drinking champagne with her. My mother loved champagne. Years ago at an outdoor wedding, we both were in our cups – or flutes as the case may have been – and giggled together all the way home in the back seat while my father and my partner at the time shook their heads.

Mostly I think about what we would talk about over brunch. We never ran out of things to talk about.

We just ran out of time.

They say that the longest day of the year is the Summer Solstice in June. I would argue that it’s the second Sunday in May.

Afterword: Through the magic of Facebook, I was given a gift this Mother’s Day weekend in the form of a blog post from Kate Spencer, entitled How I’m Making Mother’s Day My Bitch. It is, in a word, brilliant. Brilliant.

May it be a gift to all of you missing your mothers this weekend.

389657_10150830298557795_120205346_n