when the moon feels close enough to touch

Hi Dad,

Happy birthday.
I wish you were here so I could show up at your house unannounced with a bottle of Calvin cologne and we could watch football and talk about work, and life, and if I’ve “dated any knuckleheads” lately. I miss resting my head on your shoulder while you explained why there are so many flags in football. I miss eating weird Costco rotisserie chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches, even though I hate mayonnaise. I miss being yelled at to make sure I turn the lights off and shut the door with every step I took through your house. I miss running behind you trying to keep up, no matter where we were, because your stride length was always 10 times longer and faster than mine will ever be.
I miss everything, really. The good and the bad and the unexpected drop in visits.
I’ll never forget when you showed yourself into the back treatment room of the clinic I was doing an internship at and waltzed right into the middle of one of my sessions with a patient. You hugged me and told me you just wanted to see where I worked, like it was no big deal at all.
We both knew you were checking up on me to make sure I was okay and well taken care of, but we never said that part out-loud. I just rolled my eyes and hugged you quick, apologizing to my patients for the unexpected interruption.

I would give anything for one more unexpected interruption.

I’m doing okay, dad.
I’m well taken care of.

Life has been pretty good since I wrote your last birthday letter. There have been a lot of changes, but I think you’d be proud of the ground I’m standing on today. I fought like hell to get here, dad. And I didn’t give up, because Hutts don’t quit. But, man, there were so many times I wished we did.

A couple months ago, I found myself in a really low place. I called mom while sitting in my car in the parking lot at work, tears streaming down my face and a whole lot of hopelessness in my heart. In the midst of my panic, mom told me to stop for a second. “Honey, I want you to turn the music off in your car, and take a deep breath. I want you to sit in the silence without any distraction, and I want you to ask yourself something.”

I knew what was coming.

“What would your dad say? What would he tell you to do?”

At first, I was so mad. I looked up at the dashboard of my car and saw a picture of you smiling back at me. “He wouldn’t tell me to do anything because he would be here! He would just happen to be around the corner, the way he always was whenever I needed him, and he would come in here and save me so I wouldn’t have to do this alone. He would be here, mom. I don’t know what he would say because he would just be here doing it.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. I could tell mom was crying.

“I will never forget when we were all in California for the Little Miss America pageant. Your dad always thought they were silly, but the moment you were on stage he would appear out of nowhere and wave at you and make faces and always made you laugh. That particular year, you really wanted to win. To be honest, you just wanted a damn trophy. We were all huddled in the awards ceremony, and you watched, eagerly, but they never called your name. Before I could even lean forward to console you, your dad swooped you up and he carried you away so fast I couldn’t even follow. I will never forget that image. This big bald dude holding a tiny girl with blue eyes and bouncing blonde curls in a big fluffy dress, just floating across the auditorium and out of those doors so he wouldn’t have to see you cry.”

I felt tears stinging the back of my eyes and a lump in my throat as I asked my mom, “So now what? What am I supposed to do in these moments where I don’t want to disappoint him and I don’t want to fail but I don’t want to do it alone?”

“That’s the best part, baby girl. Your dad taught you every single thing you ever needed to know so that you will never have to do it alone. He’s always with you. And you are your father’s daughter. You are strong and tenacious and brave. We are so proud of you. Swoop yourself up. Take yourself to the quiet place where you are away from the pain and sadness. And don’t forget to throw up a middle finger while you walk away, because that is DEFINITELY what your dad would do. I can tell you that.”

And she’s right, dad. You would have definitely given them the middle finger. But more than that, she’s right that you taught me every single thing I could ever need to know so that I don’t have to do this alone. I hear your voice in my head all the time.

And, yeah, life has handed me a lot of knuckleheads, nincompoops, dodes, and buttheads. But thanks to your jargon, I can assign a name to each kind. There have been a lot of really high highs, and even more super low lows. But you have been here for all of them. Whether you were wiping my tears while sitting on my couch or drying my eyes while resting in my heart, you have still been there.

Sometimes, out of nowhere, someone will tell me that they bet you’re really proud of me, and it always seems to be in the moments I need to hear it most.
I know you’d be proud of me, daddio. And I hope I can spend this next year making you even more proud.

I love you to the moon and back, a million trillion times.

Sometimes the moon feels really far away. Sometimes it feels like you are so far away that I might start forgetting you. But then one of your phrases pops into my mind or someone shares a new story with me, or I tell someone my last name and they smile as they ask, “any relation to Don?”

“Yes.” I tell them, “I am Don’s daughter.”
And, in those moments, the moon feels close enough to touch.

I love you daddio,  hope you’re enjoying life around the corner. Cheers to you.

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