When I was a kid, I had a towering figure I called Dad. Later in life, my two brothers and I would call him “Big Man,” or “The Big Man.” He was a truck driver, who traveled the entire width and length of the country. He would disappear for a week or two weeks at a time and then come home and sleep. Before leaving on his trips, he’d make us all stand facing this wall that had a large crucifix and we’d all pray for his safety while on his next work trip.
Besides driving, one of his favorite things to do was eat. And boy did he love the not-so-great-stuff – bologna deli sandwiches, canned soups, hamburgers, and pizza. I acquired some-not-so-great habits from him. For example, I love bologna.
Two things I remember the most about my dad were his ability to give you directions to any state in the US without much research. Sometimes, he’d pull out his maps, because he always had maps, but he could tell me within minutes what highways and local roads (to bypass tolls) I could take to get anywhere. Every road trip I did while he was alive, always involved a call to my dad beforehand to go over his maps and directions.
The second thing is more of a memory. When I was in middle school, so around 14, I remember walking through the mall holding my dad’s hand. I recall people looking at him. During those times he wore a lot of gold and people were constantly throwing glances at this tall, confident, and slightly intimidating black man. Anyhow, I remember walking with him holding his hand thinking, nobody can hurt me, “I’m with my dad.” This proves to be one of the strongest feelings I’ve ever felt about my dad because his death left me with this feeling that I had lost that protection; that safety that only he provided.
Growing up with my dad wasn’t the easiest thing. I loved him and feared him and judged him. We had some fights. We even had a few times when we didn’t speak. When I told him I was moving to New York in 2006, he told me he didn’t think I should move and I told him, “too bad, I’m moving anyway.” He respected my decisions, mostly, and the distance I created, even though I think it pained him, but my dad could be a difficult person and as he got older and moodier and more unhappy with not being able to drive and not having his family around him, I had to create space.
My dad died five years ago today. I’ve always been open about his death. In fact, the night of the day he died, I sent an email out to 400 of my contacts letting them know. It was part of a Marathon training update email, but I still shared the news with 400 people I had come in contact with to that point in my life. I was 28 and extremely sad. I still have my days of extreme sadness.
They say grief never goes away and it doesn’t. It gets easier and most days are good. I don’t cry as much as I used to and I don’t feel the same as I did in those first days and weeks and months five years ago. See, I feel my dad around me every day. Sometimes it is as quickly as a glance in the mirror that I see him in my face and I smile. It provides a comfort that I wasn’t prepared to experience.
My dad, spiritually, has appeared and stays connected in ways that I didn’t expect. For example, whenever I travel (international destinations excluded), I inevitably find something named “Howard” – it could be a street that is a couple of blocks away from my location, or a nearby shop. While I was in Japan in December 2012, I walked past a store that had a mannequin in the window that was wearing a sweater that had the word “Dad” inside a heart. That particular day, in Japan, I had been mentally beating myself up. I was upset and going around and around in a conversation with myself and I finally stopped and said to my dad (because I speak to him), “Dad, I really need your help. I really need you to help me get over this. Why aren’t you helping me?!” And that was my answer. It makes me cry to talk about this.
Today, isn’t a day to cry, it’s more a day to celebrate. Celebrate who he is and was and all the people his life touched. It is also a day for me to reflect on my ancestry. On the beauty of his life and all that has been passed on to me. Death really is a humbling experience and it’s eye opening for those who watch it and understand the fragility of our lives and the importance of them, too.
To stop this from being a sad post, I’m going to share a few anecdotes about my dad and tie this all back to the title of this post. When we were little, my brother, Dominick and I would ask my dad all the time “Why can’t we do this?” and “Why can’t we have that?” and his response would always be a resounding, “Because I said so. That’s why.” We knew that the topic was dead and nothing would resuscitate it back to life. Going to my Mom would be of no help because she would just repeat what my dad had said.
A few years ago on Father’s Day, I created two cards and packaged them up in sets that I sell at markets and in my shop on Etsy. One card set says “Because I Said So.” The other simply says, “Dad.” In honor of my dad’s memory and my appreciation for having a flawed, but amazingly kind and generous father figure, I’m providing these cards as a downloadable PDF for you to print out yourself, write a note on and send to someone of your choosing.
They are both incredibly simple and the reason is for you to write freely and communicate with intention. Maybe you’ll print them out and send them to your dad, or gift them to your dad? I don’t know, but I hope you do. If you’re a dad, maybe you’ll print these and write notes to your kids? The files are up and good for ever. Please note that the PDFs have cropping marks so you can cut them after you print them in the correct A2 size.
One more anecdote. When my brother, Dominick, went through my father’s possessions after he passed, he found a box filled with movie ticket stubs and cards from his kids. I used to send him a postcard from all of my travels and they were all in that box. One of my favorite possessions that I have from my dad is a card he wrote to me while I was in high school looking at colleges. It was a card he bought while on one of his trucking routes and I carry it with my every day. It has his signature, his writing and it means the world to me.
Do yourself a favor, print out these cards and use them. You’ll be glad you did in the long run. Please feel free to share them with your friends and loved ones, too.
Enjoy and XO,