Somewhere amid the middle of gratitude and longing, I try every day to reach for the Light of the Heavens. On the eve of the Summer Solstice, I flit and flutter as I try to find sleep on the mattress of a pullout sofa where summer's heat creeps thickly through the screened windows of the porch. I could have chosen an upstairs room with a window air-conditioning unit, a slightly cooler option. But this is where I want to feel and greet the fullness of the dawn of summer.
Shortly after I find sleep, a boat wakes me up as it swiftly crosses the lake in the deep darkness. I look at the clock. 1:52 am! Who fishes in the middle of the night, I think to myself. And then I remember. My dad was one of those fishermen, and this lake is one of his secret destinations back in the day. I giggled to myself on the sheets that hadn't yet cooled off. Hello Summer. Hello dad. Oh, how I've missed you!
I've lived one year short of half my life without my dad. 24 Father's Days celebrating him through memories. Many years Father's Day has been a drag just as these celebratory holidays are for many people who have lost a loved one or many. No one has replaced my dad because he was irreplaceable. Maybe your dad, too, is irreplaceable. Perhaps it is your mother who was unique. Fortune is theirs, who have been blessed with two great parents. Calendar holidays can bring a mixed gardening bag of emotions if one or both are gone.
I write a lot about my mom, but today, I share my dad with you. People have told me I was the apple of his eye—finally, a daughter after sons. But he is the core of my being. I could tell you a thousand ways how my dad taught me to love and respect all people, lift others higher, serve with an open heart, leave judgment buried where it belongs, and stay humble. Yes, he was an osteopathic doctor who helped anyone who walked through his door. He made house calls to the elderly and homebound. He gave his time willingly and freely to a clinic in my hometown, befriending every human he met. A lover of nature, his garden of various flowers is vibrant still today, if only through my memory.
He was this and so much more. He was a simple, hard-working man who loved his night fishing. He would tell me he loved fishing because it was just him, the fish, and God out on the water. He would leave to go fishing shortly after I would be coming home from a night out with friends. Once the thick-night hours had offered its dreams, he would slip through the kitchen door with a box of danish and a catch of fish as the morning sun made its way into the new morning sky.
My dad loved the country. Often times, when I was young, I would go with him and my mom on Sunday afternoon drives. I admit, at the time, some of these were gut-wrenching for me to endure. Country roads weaving in and out of corn and wheat-filled fields running on for endless miles was just not my idea of excitement in grade school and high school. I wanted to look at more exciting scenery. I wanted to see people. Whenever I got in the car with my dad, he wouldn't take the fastest or most direct route anywhere. He would choose a road, meander to another, and see where we would end up without a plan or time frame. Although I didn't appreciate it at the time, my dad guided me to explore and take the backroads even when they appeared to lead to nowhere. I've learned, over time, these roads to nowhere lead to everywhere.
There is one Sunday extravaganza that tweaked my interest more than others and led me to somewhere I remember clearly to this day. I was in high school when Oprah started her show in Chicago, and my dad discovered she had a weekend home in northwest Indiana. Maybe she went more than just on weekends because it had a helicopter pad. Not knowing much about her, the show or this secluded piece of property that was now on my dad's radar inspired me to wonder and dream; imagine and stay curious. This was exciting for me, and I was mesmerized. Quickly, I'd roll down my backseat window, stretching my eyes through the tall grasses that lined the property for a glimpse of her. I can imagine telling Oprah some time (if only in my dreams):
Oprah, remember your country home in the Midwest? Well, after visiting my cousins, my dad would meander the grand country roads just to take me down the road past your property for a glance of your beauty! I never did see you, and we weren't really stalking. My dad was planting a seed. Perhaps two.
My love for writing comes from him. He appreciated and never let go of the handwritten style of writing. He left his dark-inked longhand on many sheets of paper, creations dripping from the ink of a fountain pen. Somehow, that ink dripped into me. Even though he has been gone all these years, he continues to water the first seed he planted. Then, the joy of wandering country roads and leisurely sense of time with only the heart of adventure as the map is a seed I'd never imagine would grow. So tiny during my youth. One that I never imagined would be silently and lovingly fed with his spirit. One that I never anticipated seeing its vivid and glorious bloom.
In the afternoon of this first blooming of summer, I take a drive to my parents' gravesite. My mom's birthday was last week. It's the eve of Father's Day. Their wedding anniversary is in a few days. Rather than drive the fastest way, I take the backroads—the long way. The golden sun communes with the dirt gaining life from the road under the tires of my car. The blissful earth rises to the sky behind me, ankle-high corn grows next to me, the ocean-blue heavens before me, the life of my dad lives within me. Strangely enough, or is it, as I get closer, I pass by a garden nursery my parents frequented. I stop and browse over what's left of the floral offerings to find something to take to my parents. Since I don't live nearby, I decide against flowers since I can't tend to them, so I look for a statue instead. There are none since what they had has been sold. But there are colorful figurines. Some make me laugh as I hear my parents' reflection on why they would not want one of these placed by their names.
A cardinal draws my attention as it clings to a dahlia. I think of my mom's delight in watching the cardinals out her bay window throughout the years my dad had been gone. The dahlia reminds me of my dad, his honesty, rushing slowly through adventure, his love for, and uplifting of my mother and all people. This isn't what I had in mind to take to them being a bit flamboyant in color and image. But the more I stared it down, it is the natural communion of their marriage that this backroad led me to find.
My tummy rumbles, so decide to stop for food to bring along. Finding a blanket left in the car, I unfold it in front of the lettering on the tombstone. A bird startles me as it dashes just over my head and flies on. A soft summer breeze tickles the leaves above me while birds sing freedom in their summer songs. I see the golden dome of Our Lady in the near distance. The grass itching my calves grounds me in peace as I nestle the dahlia cardinal next to the parched hasta by the stone.
A random thought enters my mind; that I have been told, by some, that my writing is flowery. I should be more direct with my language. I shouldn't use so many "ing"s. I need this or that or a substantial visible following to catch the eye of a publisher.
Gazing upon the little flaming figurine in front of me, I laugh with gratitude and a fire in my heart.
Thank you, Dad, for your love of writing and planting the seed in me.
Thank you, Mom, for encouraging me to practice this art and offer it in the same homemade way you shared your cooking with others.
You both raised me to be a bloom full of sweet nectar, offering a heartening feast rather than a bitter weed that offers nothing but noise. It's always been touching one heart at a time for me, as it was for you, and it always will.
Gathering my things before saying goodbye, I look to the sky—a heavenly ray of light dramatically streams through the scalloped cloister of silvery blue clouds. Today, I think I have reached the Light of the Heavens. Thank you, Summer.