My feelings about my father resemble a game of pick-up sticks: there are jaggedy, pointy things buried at the bottom of the pile and as soon as you disturb one, several others come unloose as well.
My father was a brave man. He was paralyzed in Vietnam at the age of 21 when a bullet tore through his left shoulder and exited via his spine. He spoke many times about the men he served with - men of grit and valor who sacrificed for their country and each other.
In the early years of my life, he was often depressed and bitter. I don't blame him for this. I cannot even begin to imagine how he felt losing use of his legs - and with that, the ability to dance, walk, run, jump and make love - at such a young age. He comforted himself with substances both legal and illegal. His choices weren't always the best, and they sometimes got him into trouble.
Worse than any of that, it was sometimes difficult to connect with a man whose body had been so unfairly broken – whose emotions and spirit had been turned inside out. Our relationship was complicated and not always easy.
But he was my father and I loved him. He was a man who chased me and a friend around the house in his wheelchair howling like a wolf. He taught me how to take pictures and develop them in the darkroom he had in his home. He visited Ireland and sent me postcards every other day detailing his adventures. He took me to see The Rolling Stones. Twice. He paid for my college education because he knew it was my ticket to a better life and I have always been so very grateful for that.
I know he loved me and I know he knows I loved him, but that does not make up for years of other things never said. Missed opportunities. Chances not taken. I am full of grief and regret this week, and probably will be for a long time.
On Friday, we held his funeral; a mass and burial with full military honors - taps, color guard, a 21-gun salute and a flag folding ceremony. I spoke at the mass, delivering a short eulogy at the end. It was a send off that I hope made him proud. I will leave you with those words:
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I am a writer. I write to process, to record and to destress. My father was a writer too. I like to think that my love of writing is a gift from him, one of many he gave me throughout my life.
My father was a war veteran. A hero. He was a philosopher and an historian. He loved politics. He was an avid reader and a painter. He always had a good story to tell. He was a genealogist who researched our family tree back hundreds of years.
He also loved astronomy. With his telescope, he could identify all of the planets. When I was a young girl, he would wake me in the middle of the night sometimes so that he share an eclipse or meteor shower with me. I remember standing on the back step of our house in Clarksburg in my pajamas looking up at the sky with him one night as a comet blazed overhead.
“See Kim, see?” he said. “Isn’t that beautiful? You won’t see that again in your lifetime.”
And even back then – at only about 7 years old - I knew why that moment was so spectacularly awesome in so many ways.
Thank you, Dad, for many, many things. You will be missed; you will be remembered. Because for the rest of my life, I will look up into the night sky and imagine you out there somewhere – chasing that comet.
1947 - 2010