Staring at the senseless symbols cluttering my already cloudy understanding, I lowered my face onto the hardbound book and did what any highly hormonal, PMS-ing 16-year-old would do: I wailed hysterically.
“When in the hell will I ever use this stuff?” I blubbered, chucking the algebra book across the room.
Hearing his daughter fall apart down the hall, my dad came to the rescue with his math genius know-how.
“Honey, would you like some help?” he asked, tapping lightly on the door before entering my room.
With Maybelline blue mascara now dripping down my face, I looked up with pleading eyes, “I have a huge test tomorrow, and I don’t understand any of this.”
Looking over my shoulder at the equations, he kissed my forehead, then reassured, “You’ll be just fine. Now, let’s get to work.”
It’s been said a father’s love is different than a mother’s. This was definitely true in our family. For my mom, the sun rose and set in her four children, and she proved that daily with her constant kisses and words of endearment. While Dad never held back the “I love you’s,” there was still so much left unsaid. It would be many years before I finally understood his dialect.
In 2003, after Mom passed away, a gift presented itself: Dad, now crippled and going blind needed care. Taking on the responsibility, I embraced our new roles – me as a caregiver, him as a dependent.
And, like the skin of an orange delicately peeled, the years began to undress, some pretty, some not. There was fatigue, stress, and boredom for both of us, but as I prayed for relief, I discovered our time also to be illuminating. Thinking I could handle it all with ease, I uncovered many of my human shortcomings. Fortunately, this altered the trajectory of my life as I discovered the gift of patience for myself.
It was also during those years that I cracked the code to his unique language. While Dad had little to say, it was the depth of his faith in his children’s ability that roared louder than any dinnertime conversation on morals and good manners, and all done with just a look in his eyes or nod of his head.
Before then, I took his conviction in me for granted. After all, who sees anything while languishing in self-pity? But, as we nurtured each other in his final days, I began to realize that with each struggle or heartbreak, Dad was always there gently stretching my wings so I could fly.
One day, in late October 2012, while having a discussion about the latest challenge in my real estate career, he squeezed my hand and said, “You must believe me, you’ll be just fine.” Shortly after, he slipped into a deep coma-like sleep. It quickly became evident he was leaving this life, and he was leaving me.
For the next seven days, I sat by his side as memories of our 60 years together collided, one into another. Selfishly, I didn’t want him to go. After all, who’d be there to pick me up when I needed it most, but knowing he was hanging on just for me, I folded him into my arms for one last heart-to-heart.
“Dad, you don’t have to worry. I love you. I’ll miss you, but I’ll be just fine.” And, with a soft breath, he drifted away on October 28th.
Whether it’s human nature or childhood conditioning, I’ll always tussle with my self-confidence, but I’ve learned that when we can show our faith in one another’s ability, magical things happen. Because a sweet man once loved and believed in me, I know, I’ll always be – just fine.