When I’d have a problem that I couldn’t fix, just before giving up entirely, I’d ask my dad for guidance. When I expected that he’d encourage me to surrender (and call in a professional), he would instead listen to the entire problem and even suppose the various outcomes. And finally, when I expected that he’d offer advice, he would offer to come over and show me precisely how to tackle the problem.
Now it must be said that my dad was no superhero. He wasn’t smarter than everyone else either. In fact, he wasn’t even that dedicated to a solution. Anyone who knew him would tell you that his loyalty wavered (usually in the direction of a green-bottled brew). But what made my dad unique (to me) was his desire to serve.
He knew his own limitations, but didn’t let them prevent him from trying. The mark he left on a problem would always be evidence that an interruption certainly took place. The unresolved problem was a problem that would have been much worse had it gone unaddressed.
My dad enjoyed stillness. But he could never sit idly watching anyone struggle. He was so eager to be helpful that he would help out as a simple courtesy.
In his final months, he spent his remaining fortune at yard sales and flea markets. He would often offer more than the asking price for any trinket that caught his eyes. He defended, “that there is worth twice as much…I’d be taking advantage if I haggled the price.” He was helping without being asked for help. I suppose it was a low-cost way to claim a victory.
It’s been 21 years since my dad died. Even his last day was poetic and not without purpose. He believed that he was resolving a problem that wouldn’t fix itself. For those he left behind, we’ve varied in the ways we processed our grief. Having answers to one question rarely resolved the grief. It merely provided permission to ask other questions. And the unanswered questions become the most important.
I stopped asking questions like “How did he die?” “Why did he leave us?” and “What were the circumstances that led up to his death?” I’ve grown past these questions, mostly because the answers were too uncomfortable. And the only time I could get a little comfort is to write something in his honor on the anniversary of his death.
Over the past 21 years, I’ve encountered a number of problems and wondered how my dad would have approached each one. I’d like to think that his energy in the moments might have impacted the outcome. No doubt, his input would have changed the trajectory. But for 21 years I’d led myself to believe that the outcome would have been better with his hands-on approaches.
Perhaps I should rely on the notion that the lessons that he’d taught me would provide the wisdom needed to approach any situation. After 21 years of wishing he’d been there to consult, to intervene, or to force a solution that may not have been the best outcome, I pause. It is now that I realize that no one, including my dad, has the perfect solution to every problem. It is now that I realize the fact that we often decide for ourselves how committed we are to any given problem. Finally, I must concede that how we’ve approached our problems in the past plays a large role in determining how we will handle current and future problems.
Although I miss my dad a great deal, 21 years is more than enough time to stop asking “what would he have done in this situation?”
Twenty one years is enough time to have bore another human being, watch them grow into an adult, and model for them the tools to manage a world of problems on their own. It’s enough time to ascend and descend a dozen times. Its enough time to be loved and hated. It’s enough time to be at the top and the bottom simultaneously. What would he have done in these situations? What could he have done to assist? Would he have listened, advised, or assisted, or intervened, or ignored situations entirely? It doesn’t even matter because 21 years have passed any way. It’s ALL in the past now.
I can’t be certain of anything. I know I miss him. But I also know that he’s left enough behind for me to contend with. I know that if I handled situations the same way he did, my outcomes may have mimicked his, and that’s not ok either.
Missing someone doesn’t mean that having them beside you still would be better. It just means that you wouldn’t be alone. And I never felt alone. I just felt overwhelmed.