Dear Dad,

I did it. Finally, after teaching for 23 years, off and on since the fall of 1984, I am a professor. I know it would make you happy. You used to ask, “When will you be a professor, not an assistant or an associate professor, but a real professor?” I would try to explain that some people go through their whole careers and never become professors. I was trying to manage your expectations. And now you’re not here to celebrate. I can’t call you to tell you the news. I don’t know where you are. You left this planet, abruptly, more than eight years ago. Even before I met Art. That was worse than not getting this news. Art is amazing. You would have loved him, his talents, his doing-ness, his knowledge, his sweet smile, the way he can tell a story. You and he could have had long evenings, not talking all that much. Just enough, just a few old stories. But Art wouldn’t have loved your chickens. He tells me, “No chickens.” The same way mom said, “No chickens,” when I was a kid. You had to move to Arkansas and leave mom behind, her preference, to have chickens. And you loved them, their colors, their breeds, that I never learned. Bragged up their eggs. But when I visited, you told me they were mean. To stay out of their space. Nothing’s ever perfect. Mean chickens, but delicious fresh eggs with sunflower-yellow yolks. The natural beauties of nature. It was worth the trade-off.

So dad, things are good. I am a professor, but more importantly I am a happy professor. You probably wouldn’t have approved of me looking on the internet for a man. But it sure worked. I got lucky. Art had been looking for years, maybe 20, so what a surprise that he’d finally settle on me. I was living, after a string of moves that earned me the label “gypsy,” in upstate New York. Art was happy having lived his whole life in Denver. Raised three good boys, now three good men, a good deal on his own. He wasn’t sure I understood where Denver was. Otherwise why would I “wink” at him when my profile said I was looking for someone in a 50-mile radius? But once we got that straightened out, it was just meant to be. He came to visit in November, and by May we were married and on the way to Denver. Sold my house, and got my new professor job, well, associate professor. But it’s the one that has allowed me to finally be a full professor. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep at it, now. But it’s nice to have the striving behind me.

And for you, the striving is over too. No more worries about all the girls, five of us. Even if you were here you wouldn’t have to worry. We’re all doing fine. Lacy took great care of mom for years. And Christine and Heather helped with the heavy lifting at the end. Mom went to medical school. And the students at the University of Minnesota put on an amazing show of gratitude through song and dance and poetry and essays. I’m going to go to medical school too. I had decided before mom’s service that I would, but the outpouring of emotional thankfulness the students shared made me see that, for me, I had made the best of decisions.  And, dad, the next generation of boys, Tim and Chris and Chuck, are all doing superbly well too. No worries there. Tim and his wonderful wife Anna and her generous parents were at mom’s service, and so was Chris.  I didn’t have to read the way I did at your service, so I didn’t embarrass myself with a busted floodgate of tears. I miss you, dad. I think about you a lot. I’m grateful, really grateful, for all the gifts you gave me – the skiing, the swimming, the hiking, the fishing, the sitting quietly looking at the stars. Just last week I skied 13 runs on a snow cat in Steamboat. You would have loved to have been there, or at least to have seen the pictures. Without your patient, gentle, guidance that would never have been possible. I’m sorry you’re gone. We all have to go. But I hope I can leave some little piece of what you left me when I leave.

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