Growing up, my dad regularly told me the story of how I came to be a part of my family. He painted such a vivid picture of the first time my parents met me (I was adopted at 2) that it felt like his memory was my memory. I remember hearing how the first morning in South Carolina, he woke up to my big toddler eyes staring at him, and the walk he took me on while my mom filled out paperwork. I’ve heard the story a million times, but no matter what, when he started telling it, I wanted to hear it. Last summer, at a family reunion, he was telling the story of how our family came to be, starting from the first time he met my mom, right up to current day, as a bedtime story for my nieces. It was late and I was exhausted but I stayed up because I knew eventually he would get to my story. As always, and with the same excitement and loads of detail, he told my story.
I didn’t know that would be the last time I would hear my dad tell me my story. He passed away in February. I always thought I was a little self-obsessed loving that story so much, but looking back I think him repeatedly telling the story was one of the most validating things in my life. Like he was reassuring me that he was happy to be my dad. It was something relatively small that he could do to make me feel like I was still very much wanted and like I fit just perfectly into my family.
In the months since he’s been gone, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of him and how best to honor his memory in my own little family. I have a toddler who is too young to really remember much about her grandpa and am now expecting another baby girl that will never get to know him. At first, I felt like I needed to do something big, but the more I looked back on the time I had with my dad I think the best way to honor him and to have him close by is to stop and enjoy the little.
What I mean by that is, I’m not sure if the memories of my dad that I hold dearest are the memories he had planned or thought that I would remember.
We had lots of fun toys growing up – we spent summers boating and winter on snowmobiles. My parents planned fun outings and trips for my siblings and me and they were always a blast. I, of course, have fun and fond memories of these big experiences, but now that my dad isn’t here, I tend to recall the little moments. I remember the trips to Carden’s Car Wash or to hardware stores when dad let me pick a treat that we shared while we chatted on the drive home. I remember the time spent singing Barry Manilow’s greatest hits around our piano. I think about playing games on the trampoline, dad whistling police sirens just about every time we got in the car, and hearing dad’s whistle across the neighborhood signaling it was time to come home.
Like I said, I’m not sure my dad anticipated me clinging to those seemingly small moments, but oh how I cling. Losing my dad taught me such a valuable parenting lesson. It’s made me realize that maybe I’m trying too hard to give my daughter (and soon her sister) big experiences when what they need and want is just a moment of my time. Don’t get me wrong, I will still plan fun events and trips for my kids, and my girls will have fun and build memories and relationships from those. But if nothing else, I am reminded to slow down and enjoy the dance parties in the kitchen, and sharing cookies from local soda shops, the mornings spent curled up on the couch reading mountains of books, and the evenings spent on the trampoline as a family.