When my dad, Linus, died 22 years ago, I was just a kid. 14. I hadn’t started wearing makeup, hadn’t kissed a boy, hadn’t even ever been grounded.
He didn’t teach me how to drive. He wasn’t at my wedding. He never held his grandchildren.
When he died, I didn’t really know him. Sure, I knew he like to fish and hunt. He liked dark liquors. Westerns and Bond movies were his favorites.
As I’ve aged, I’ve liked to guess at how he’d react to things. Probably he’d have yelled at my burgeoning behind-the-wheel skills. He’d have cut a rug with my mom at my wedding dance. And with my babies, well, there’d have been no knee more bouncy or noises so funny as those of Grandpa Linus.
Bigger questions have filled my conscious. As a teenager sitting on his headstone at night, smoking illicit cigarettes, I’d say, “How are you, Daddy? Are you happy? Can you see me? Are you there?”
I never received clear answers. No ‘messages from beyond the grave.’ Just feelings.
Two decades later and I’m still asking those questions, wondering about his presence.
He’s become a grandfather now. Does he sense this? Perhaps. Is he aware of his little descendants as they blow out the candles on their birthday cakes? Maybe. Will he ever know that his brown-eyed children have borne blue-eyed babies because of him? Probably not.
But those children, kids whose names honor his father and his wife, are most certainly aware of him. They know he loved babies. They know Grandpa Linus found peace while walking in the woods. And their nicknames, ‘Squirrel’ and ‘Big-stick’, well, Grandpa Linus was a genius at finding socially acceptable ways to address his kids when vulgarity was easily an option.
Since becoming a mom, I’ve started to realize things about my dad I’d never known before. Things a younger me couldn’t have guessed. I see clearly that he loved me and my siblings fiercely, even when my memories are populated by angry directives.
In raising my own, I recognize how important family was to him.
He tried his very best to be a good dad, learning from his father’s mistakes. It’s the same course I attempt to stay, practicing patience, empathy and measuring my voice when he might have yelled in frustration. My own motherhood experience is only a quarter of Dad’s, but it’s already shown me the selflessness my father gracefully possessed throughout my entire childhood.
As the space between my dad’s physical presence in my life and his leaving widens, the closer I grow to him. I didn’t really know my dad when he died, but as a mom, I’m getting to.
Robin Huiras is a freelance writer and the mom of two girls living in Evergreen Park.