It’s crazy that I’ve written dozens of blog posts, but have yet to write one solely on my father. I think the reason is that every time I sit down to write it, I think, “I can’t possibly capture my dad in one blog post!” Which of course is true. But since he left on Monday to return to Oregon for the summer, I feel compelled to at least try and capture a bit of what makes him so wonderful.
For anyone who knows him, you know that my dad loves just a few things in life: family, golf and Texas football. He retired a few years ago with the goal that he’d play golf every single day, and he made good on that promise for a number of years. The only thing that changed his daily (and sometimes twice-daily) round of golf was a Texas football game. He knew I cared nothing about football, but would still call me and recount half of the plays of each game and remind me (every year) that this was going to be the year Texas football won it all.
He did that routine – play golf, watch football, read and relax – on repeat every day for three years. He did interrupt the routine to visit us and even live with us for periods of time. But the routine was part of what made my dad so unique. He didn’t need to see the wonders of the world or eat in every great restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. He just needed golf and Texas football and the Clark family reunions.
But then Shawn got sick. I remember talking to him on the phone sometime in October or November. I was standing in my bedroom and Shawn was in bed. I told him about Shawn’s recent test results, and how they had found a few concerning things. At this point, every doctor still thought that Shawn had some crazy infection. But my dad said that Shawn needed to get a colonoscopy sooner rather than later, just to rule out anything terrible like cancer. “But,” he said to me, “that can’t happen. That would definitely not be fair if something happened to Shawn. You already lost your mom when you were young. You can’t lose your husband.”
It was the first time I’d really thought about that idea. I quickly dismissed it with something like, “Dad, please, Shawn is fine.” I didn’t even remember our conversation until way after Shawn died. But when I finally did think back to this moment, I remember what struck me about it was that my dad never said things like this. He didn’t ever try and talk about the fairness of things because, I think, his role as a doctor meant that he had seen how cruel the world could be. He knew that life was unfair, and he pointed it out to my sister and me all the time. Just trust me – the most used phrase out of my dad’s mouth when we were kids was “life is unfair.”
Of course Shawn’s death was unfair. So was my mom’s death, but Shawn’s death seemed even more unfair. Not because he was any better than my mom but because he was my husband. My dad understood that the loss of a spouse is one of the the worst things you can experience. He got my pain more than anyone else in my life.
And so, when Shawn got sick it didn’t matter that my dad couldn’t play golf or watch much Texas football in DC. He came anyway.
He wanted to come right away, but I held him off for a few weeks. I thought we had a long road ahead and that we would need him later. When it became too much for me, I called him one afternoon in tears. He arrived on the first flight the next day and spent that very night in the hospital with Shawn so I could go home and sleep.
He spent at least a dozen more nights with Shawn on the pull-out couch next to his hospital bed, and he woke up with me in the middle of the night when I needed to help Shawn once we were home. He told me to have hope, even when his doctor sensibilities knew that there was little left. He stayed with me as Shawn died and he held me up at the funeral. And though I was the one who told my kids that their father had died, my dad made sure they were prepared. The last morning Shawn was alive, Claire asked her Grandpa Tom if her dad was going to die. He told her the truth.
Rather than shield us all from an uncomfortable reality, he faced the tragedy with us head-on. He was with me – with us – in the moments when I couldn’t bear to do it alone.
And then, after Shawn died, he stayed. He stayed and made pancakes and did laundry and read thousands of books with the kids. He stayed and met my friends and learned their stories and remembered all of their names and the funny details about them. He stayed and listened to my kids’ crazy stories and helped them do their math homework and yes – he even potty-trained Tommy. He stayed and left me alone when I needed to be left alone and then drank wine with me when I needed to not be left alone. He stayed and made a life in DC by meeting everyone at the kids’ elementary school and telling funny stories at countless neighborhood gatherings. He stayed even though in six months he only got to play golf once and he had to watch Texas football mostly by streaming it on a small computer screen.
He stayed. He stayed for me and he stayed for the kids. Because if there’s one thing my dad knows, it’s that showing up is everything.
It’s the thing that’s so awesome about my dad. That, and his chocolate chip cookies.
We can’t wait for him to come back for the next school year. And the one after that. “He’s staying until I’m in high school at least,” Claire said to me the other day, totally out of the blue. She was smiling.
I smiled back.
Lucky, lucky us. Though, if you ask him, he will say that he’s the lucky one.