Today is my birthday. I'm spending it in a place my dad would have loved, and which for me is the 'middle school orchestra' circle of hell. *addendum: this has actually turned out to be OK.
That's typical. My dad spent 46 years wondering, I'm sure, how such a creature as I managed to swim out of his gene pool.
I'm at a Dude Ranch, surrounded by horses and fields and wincing at the promise of trail rides and bonfires. Before we left Las Vegas, I confirmed that the lodge had WiFi. Otherwise, there may well have been an unfortunate laundry accident, sadly preventing me from joining my husband's family for the weekend.
We're commemorating my in-laws' 60th wedding anniversary, something my parents will never have. My dad died last year, too young, too soon. This will be our first Father's Day without him.
I forgot to call last year. We did that to each other, sometimes. He didn't remember birthdays, didn't come to listen to my girls sing when our symphony and chorus toured Utah -- with me at the baton -- didn't turn off "Andy Griffith" when I called from Puerto Rico.
For my part, I sent gift cards, usually late, no doubt obvious to him as an afterthought. Cried when we disagreed, took too many things personally.
We shared many of the same strengths and talents. Both natural teachers, both at ease - at our best - working large crowds and running the show. Maybe this was why we didn't value it as much in one another. "The world already has one of me," we seemed to say. "How could it possibly hold two?"
We also shared many of the same weaknesses. Sometimes, being together was like shining a spotlight on all the gaps in our armor, the holes in our characters, maybe even the insecurity behind the bluster. No one could make me feel more exposed for the fraud I suspected I really was than my dad. I did it to him, too. Neither of us meant to. At least I hope not.
But, sometime in my forties, things began to change. We softened, a little. Forgave more. Let most of the misunderstanding and the understanding-too-well pass, finding companionship in a willingness to be kind, rather than a determination to be right.
I spent most of the last week of his life with him. He was the happiest, the most at peace and content, I had ever known him to be. He had been working in the temple. It showed in his face, changed the sound of his voice, put a light back in his eyes. He laughed more. He flirted with waitresses, teased my daughter -- dropping a piece of corn on her plate and pretending he'd sneezed his false tooth onto her dinner -- and showed my son the ins and outs of qualifying for student loans. A businessman all his life, he spent his last few years working with special needs school children.
I was in the chapel the last time he publicly expressed the depth of his faith. My oldest two children heard it, too. It was a mercy I didn't deserve, a moment of grace surely meant for a better daughter than I.
He should be here, breathing this mountain air and nuzzling the horses, throwing sticks for the caretakers' Sheltie, laying the bonfire. Once again I find myself lost in his world, not knowing what to do or how to do right by this man, so much like me and yet in many ways hidden from me by -- what? my pride? his privacy? I don't know.
The last words I said to him were 'I love you.' He said the same to me. We meant it. We believed each other. It had taken a lifetime -- my lifetime -- to reach that place. Three days later he was gone.
No moral to this story. No admonitions toward an improved life. Relationships are tough, even those that matter the very most.
I loved my dad. I know he knew it.
I know it was finally enough.