Once a week or so I think to myself, Dad will know that, or Dad would like that. Or sometimes I panic when I realize that I haven't talked to him a few weeks, how could I let this much time go by, and then smack, I get it, I can't call him anymore. It was Law and Order that really drove this home, Dad suffering from the same addiction, and so generally on Wednesday nights my phone would ring, right at 10pm, right after the final Bum Bum. The first few weeks I didn't notice and then there it was, several weeks in a row without a wrap up and I was devastated, and very alone.
My father was born on his parent's first wedding anniversary, May 11th, a date he frequently recited incorrectly in his youth, telling all his friends that he was born on his parent's wedding day, to the certain horror of my grandmother. He was good at it, horrifying his mother, only fine tuning his skills as he grew older. He was ornery, frequently in trouble, and an educational disaster, something my grandmother shared with me, to his dismay, as I struggled with math in college. Foolishly he took me to a college reunion in Dallas, a roomful of Aggies eager to tell me all about the antics of "Beachball". My life seemed calm, never had I thrown myself through a hotel room wall, not once.
Sometimes I think I could write an entire book about my dad. He was a character, a larger than life personality that lived every single day, never taking a day off, rarely slowing down. The blow of losing my dad at 61 was softened, just a bit, by knowing that he lived every bit of those 61 years at full speed. He was a man of great passion; a huge person with a huge laugh, a presence. My father never attended an event, he worked the room, and the room loved him. Every year he spent a few days in Chicago at a soft drink convention, I loved tagging along, going to receptions, pretending that I was a part of this life with him. The pass that I wore around my neck had our shared last name in huge letters across the top. Everyone knew my dad, I heard every bad joke about how such an ugly guy could have such a lovely daughter, and then, inevitably, a reassurance, an arm around my shoulder and a secret, your dad is really a great guy.
And he was, he loved his family, his sister, and Mimi, who he commonly referred to as "MOTHER". He worked every day with his father, a man he adored, and called "pal", a name he also gave to me when I was very young. And the beauty is this, my sister is nodding her head because she too was his pal, and he loved us both very much. His heart was wide open and he found room for everyone. At his memorial I looked out at the crowd, knowing I was looking at 300 people who considered themselves to be his best friend, and they were.
He loved to travel, happiest sitting on the beach in Mexico with his cigar watching the sunset. Or in Aspen, having a beer at Timberline while watching Ashley and I careen down Fanny Hill. He loved food, and was deeply disturbed at his oldest daughter's refusal to eat meat, the soul of his Republican diet. He loved politics and history, as do I, although not exactly the same politics. And he loved Aggie football, loved with a passion generally reserved for gin martinis, Bob Dole or Cuban cigars.
Every summer Dad loaded up the Grand Wagoneer with Mom, and her cigarettes, my sister, and her small bladder, our friend Brad, and a rotating cast of others: Paul, Michael, Joey, whatever he could wedge in, and me, for the two day trip to Colorado. The inside of the car was not a democracy and as Dad did all the driving the rest of us endured 16 hours of Kenny Rogers, countless meals of truck stop chicken fried steak and lengthy monologues on the pure genius of Aggie football, all residual effects of his Texas education. The summer I threw the remains of my soda out the rear window and back onto everyone in the car began the "God Dammit Allyson" years, a phrase muttered so frequently that after a summer in Colorado with Dad my friend Paul incorporated it into his daily vernacular: drive your car into a tree? God Dammit Allyson. Flunk a geometry test? God Dammit Allyson. Maybe I'll call Paul, just to ask him to bark that at me every now and then.
When Dad died, one of my best friends wrote me a note, "he's not far away, listen to your heart, he's there". It's his voice I hear so frequently, joking with his granddaughters, or finding my stern voice when someone steals a book from the other, it's Dad who set the example, and I will be forever grateful for his leadership, and his never ending belief in me. His confidence is what gives me the character to live each day as he did, with vitality and spirit and love, and I do know he would be proud. I miss you Pal, every day.