Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I am thinking of my dad today. I think of him everyday really, with varying themes, recollections, humor, and pain. It wasn’t until I was about 19 that my dad and I really seemed to get along well. Since that turning point in our relationship I learned so many things. My dad was a great teacher. While he taught things like karate, dance, and Pilates, the thing that made him a great teacher to me was his enthusiasm to try and share new things.
When he would come to visit, he would teach the boys how to do headstands and how to make bean sprouts. He helped the boys plant trees and examine each other’s ears using his otoscope. We talked about what it was like for me growing up and discovered some of the roots of those teenage power struggles we endured. He’d bring unusual food. For one New Year’s Eve dinner, we made roasted kale and pumpkin spaetzle. We experimented with recipes from Susan Hermann Loomis’s “French Farmhouse Cookbook” for a Confit of Duck Gizzards and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Cookbook”for Crispy Pig’s Ears. He helped us move from Wyoming to North Dakota without hesitation. Then returned a few months later to help cut down some overgrown trees in the yard. He was overjoyed with the arrival of each of his grandsons and so proud at my graduation.
What I learned most from my dad, whether it was about food, physical health, anatomy, spirituality, finance, life changes, or relationships, always had to do with conquering fear—about having confidence and courage to do what feels right, even if the chosen actions might end up raising a few eyebrows along the way.
I will never forget the last conversation we had. I was struggling to tread water with the responsibilities I had as a Vice President at a college. More was being asked of me in terms of administration and leadership, sadly at the expense of engaging with staff and students in the projects I loved. Through the conversation I felt the love and acceptance from him, like a warm and comforting hug and his final words, “Rachel, be happy.” I took a deep breath, sobs choked in my throat as I exhaled a reply of “I’ll try.” Less than a week later, he was gone. No warnings, no signs. Just gone, to walk in the next world.
Again and again, I find myself looking to that moment to help fill in the gaps of the times when I feel like I needed his reassurance and guidance most. Like in February, when we had to plan his funeral, meet with an attorney, discuss inherited IRA rollovers and distributions. Or this spring, when I spent a month going through pain, medical tests, and surgeries to identify that I’ve been suffering from gallbladder attacks for years. Or this summer, when I resigned from my position to focus on my physical and emotional health and I had no idea of what I might do to carry the family through financially. Or the last month, when I began developing a business idea, looked at commercial property, and began to think of myself as an entrepreneur. Or now, as we take the final steps into the holiday season, when we’ll be eating wonderful food, sharing memories, and missing him dearly.
And amid it all, I can say that I have tried to “be happy.” And it hasn’t been easy. But I know who I am, what is important to me, and I am grateful for all I was able to share with my dad.