ConGRADS to the Dad Grad 2010

As Pomp And Circumstance began to play. The girls and I scour the bobbing hats and streaming tassels looking for the one we want to see. Dad. The one we have been waiting to watch walk down the aisle. The one Molly asked if his graduation was starting every three minutes for the last half hour (I’m not kidding).

There!

There he is, the other aisle past our section, if you squint, you can see the happy grad giving us a wave. He saw us!

Catching a glimpse of our grad

I think the girls felt assured that you were in fact there after they saw you. How you saw us in that crowd from across the room – I have no idea.

I have not graduated from college, nor been to college. I don’t know the sacrifice involved. I don’t know the deadlines, the reports, or the group projects. I’ve never taken a college exam, nor studied for a final. I haven’t experienced it. I just don’t know. But…..

I do know for over a year, I watched a single dad working full-time and attending class from 6p-10pm two nights a week in an accelerated masters program. He gave up nights of movie dates, dinners, watching his favorite TV shows, and sleep to study. He spent evenings on conference calls with classmates to complete group projects. He took weekends to burrow in his office and study for the final exam after a fast paced six-week class. He made almost straight A’s.

I couldn’t have done it. Not with the pressure of life. Not with the craziness of kids, an ex, and visitation schedules that don’t take into consideration study time, due dates, and exams. But he did. He made it look easy. And although I can’t fully understand the experience, I can be in awe of his dedication and determination.

Master of Science in Information Systems from the College of Business at UTA…..I don’t even have words to express the magnitude of your success. An achievement most people only think about attaining (but never do).

Your daughters and I, after catching your smiling wave, watched with pride as the rest of the grads filed in one by one and the speeches began. Glancing at the sea of hats and tassels, feeling the resolving strength it took to wear those gowns, knowing each person had a story – a sacrifice – to get there. I got a little teary. Bridget rubbed and patted my arm snuggled next to me. I felt so lucky to be there witnessing that moment with your children, your brother, your step-dad, and your miraculous mother – all watching – all proud.

We listened to the encouragement from speakers alternating girls between laps and chairs. Every few minutes I would assure them Daddy was right there (pointing to all the grads in the direction you sat) and you would be crossing that big stage real soon.

I watched them closely for any sign of returning illness they had that morning (the throwing up kind). If they had still been sick, they would not have been able to attend. You would have been crushed. I would have shrugged it off as they are too little anyway, but my heart would have hurt for you. So praise God, they were well for your special event. Praise God, they spotted you headed for the stage and despite clapping for EVERY name called Jason. They did finally get the “right” Jason. They were so happy to see you on stage. We cheered our hearts out.

UTA Texas Hall graduation ceremony '10

I watched you on that stage through a 200mm lens lit up with the triumph and victory of a masters degree.

You did it. You, and no one else.

Congratulations Jason; my super smart hero who uses bigger words than this Oklahoma (schooled) non-edumacated girl knows (wink).

I truly thought you were crazy to take this on with two young children. I think I said, “Are you mad?

Now I know, you are not crazy. You are not mad as a hatter. Just super intelligent, driven, and proficient at what you do. Driven by a want to go above and beyond, not just for yourself, but for your children’s future.

I love you dad grad.

The master (heh!).

I cherish my life with you. I cherish your desire to always be the best.

You are.

I couldn’t be more proud.

ConGRADS!

There is a story, for every day, of every year past.

Do you remember this time last year? What you were doing? Where you were going?

Do you have days when you realize…..Wow, that was a YEAR ago…….really? It stuns you.

You can’t believe the time has flown by, that it’s December, almost Christmas and New Year’s (again).

I have glimpses of those years past all the time. Maybe, it’s just having a good memory, or from the photos I take.

For instance, I came across this photo.

Two years ago, bowling with a broken right hand.

This was at the end of the seven weeks casted at my friend Karen’s birthday party. My cast was pretty grimy and I had (almost) mastered being a one-handed (with a non-dominate left hand) typer, writer, hair washer, and eater extraordinaire. Amazing what you can do when you have to. However, my bowling was not so hot – at all. I always remember my cast this time of year, because I could NOT put up the tree one-handed.

Last Thanksgiving, this is what the girls looked like together. Crazy cute, right?


This year.

Still crazy cute!

What’s funny about this is Brownie. Last year, Molly had a death grip on Fred; my mom’s Shih-tzu and our love of Fred is the reason we ended up getting Brownie Poo in July.

Molly holding Fred.

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. His last birthday.

A year ago today, was the last day I hugged my dad, and kissed his cheek.

We drove to Ada on Saturday. Sydney made her first loooong driving trip in the driver’s seat under our supervision (notice I was in the backseat). She was fifteen with her freshly printed permit.

Sydney with only her drivers permit driving to Oklahoma.

She did very, very good. We drove straight to the hospital where dad had checked himself in about a week or so before. He had a hernia that perforated part of his bowel and they had done surgery. I had talked to him on the phone, his birthday, and he sounded pretty weak. But fact is, he had worse things happen health-wise in his life. This wasn’t anything. But…in all the hustle and bustle of this time of year, I opted to just stop, and spend the day traveling to Oklahoma to see him. Just in case. IF something happened, I didn’t want to have any regrets, or I should haves….

We arrived to his room and he looked a little more worn than I expected, but better than what he had sounded on the phone. He did look older. Jason, Sydney, and I sat and visited for a while. I don’t like hospitals. I, especially, don’t like Valley View. My grandpa died there, my second cousin, my step-dad…..I just don’t like the place. The only thing good from Valley View was the memory of seeing my favorite aunt, dad’s sister, there. She used to work at the front desk and as a crazy teen I would stop by to see her. But she had moved to Houston many, many years ago.

Dad was watching football.

Dad was a man with nine and half-lives.

Dad was going to be fine.

I left the hospital room with a squeeze and a kiss fully knowing, I would see him again. At home, in front of his big screen TV, watching OU, with his trusty Buddy dog at his side.

We went to the local Mexican food place for my fill of queso with mushrooms from Polo’s. The only place that makes it just the way I looooves it. When we go to pay, I realize, I don’t have my purse. Now, you know what happens when a girl realizes she doesn’t have her purse, and all her worldly possessions on her persons.

Yeah.

It’s panic mode. I searched the car, the restaurant, the sidewalk……everywhere….and came up with only ONE place it could be. My dad’s hospital room.

Huh.

Isn’t that strange? Because, I never lose my purse. Or forget it.

Never.

At first, I was a little irritated. We had said good-bye already. We were ready to hit the road for the long three hours of driving. What was this?

Then, I gathered my thoughts. I listened to my instincts. One thing I wished I had done was brought dad a present, or a card. In our rush, we had just taken off from Texas and came to the room empty-handed. So we went to the local Wal-Mart and I shopped for my dad’s Christmas. I shopped to cheer him up in that dreary white-walled hospital room. And I brought him his favorite things – OU stuff.

I also, picked up a Christmas fern plant in substitute for a Christmas tree, just in case, he was stuck there until close to Christmas.

Dad's OU blanket and Christmas fern.

He brightened up when we returned. It wasn’t just the gifts either. It was the surprise, the second visit in a day. I didn’t even mention my purse sitting on the empty hospital bed in his room. He kept wanting me to hold his blanket up so he could see all the colors (he is color blind like me). Reds he DOES see. The furry bear guy – which I have no idea what he has to do with OU – reminded him of his Buddy dog. He loved it. He had me lay it out on the bed next to where he was sitting. We admired the blanket. We admired the Christmas fern. We watched some football together, talked, and laughed. I left happy I had gone back. I needed that time and his smiles. No regrets. I knew, I just knew, he was going to be fine and recover – like always.

Dad passed away about midnight the next day of major heart failure.

My last-minute trip to Oklahoma. My return to that hospital room. It was no accident. It was a gift. My Christmas gift. From God, from dad, from the world of father’s and daughter’s. It was my last good-bye. My last memory.

Oh, how I cherish my favorite blanket.

Merry Christmas Dad. I miss you. I remember this day…has it really been a year?…and I’ll never forget it.

Time goes on

Two years go by, but I’ll never forget. I still remember like it was yesterday. The day we held your service and placed you to rest.

I look back on this day, as if it were crystallized in my mind. The hot August sun. The crispy graveyard grass. The beautiful spray of flowers across your handsome gray casket. I try to be strong for my mom. I know she needs me, but when Charley Pride’s, I’ll fly away, plays at the service. I lose my composure a bit. I have memories of riding in your big yellow Lincoln town car listening to Charley Pride sing, Mountain of Love. The first song I ever heard by him. It was one of those I could hear over and over, as you did when you were seven. You really got a kick out of that. To hear his voice again brought such happy tears, and sad ones.

You flew away – oh glory – to a home on God’s celestial shore. A piece of my heart flew with you – is still with you. Always.

The comfort of today is that you are free, just as your beautiful gravestone says.


    I’m free
    Be not burdened with times of sorrow
    I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
    My life’s been full, I’ve savored much,
    good friends, good times,
    a loved ones touch.
    Lift up your hearts and share with me,
    God wanted me now;
    He set me free.

Father, confidant, supporter, encourager, most patient man in the world – stepfather and treasure. Times goes on….but your memories are alive in my beating heart.

I see the sun and you are in it.

What’s in a day to you?

Tell me. What does your calendar look like? Do you mark the days off as they pass? Do you write in your appointments? Your milestones? Your due bills? Anniversaries? Birthdays?

Do you days pass by without meaning? Just an X in another day.

A reminder of when school is out. A holiday cue. A time change. A weekend. Another page to turn. Another month goes by until you have a full year. Then you begin anew. Another calendar. Another day. Another month. Another year.

Some days are like that for me. I just get through them and mark them as done.

But what if your calendar were your memories? What if they were your most precious moments? What if your desk was FULL of these memories and these years? That very thing was revealed at my Dads house. We discovered an overflow of keepsakes on his calendar and in his desk. Memories.

Over TWENTY years of calendar pages, pictures, cards, post cards, letters, and notes. Twenty years. All at his fingertips to browse the pages of his history. To remember, to know, and to live through each day in the simplest way.

Pictures of us small. Pictures of us big.  Pictures of the grand kids and girlfriends past. Pictures of his mom and dad. A Methodist dedication certificate as a baby (which we had no idea about). Newspaper articles. Birthday cards and Father’s Day cards. Every nook and cranny stuffed with something important to him. The main event – the calendar that dominated his desktop written on each day.

I was stunned. My heart moved. The smallest details meant so much to him. Everything. Our visits. When he got a letter in the mail or a card. A phone call. Some small bit of news. A beautiful day. A rainy day. When he went to the park. The list goes on and on. Every day he wrote something to mark his path.

I’m not going to lie. To see these notes, cards, and letters, to know what it meant to him just to hear from us – it punched a hole in my gut. The guilt. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I visit more? Send mail more? Email more? Why? How do we get so busy to forget the little things?

I myself am a calendar saver. I, too, make notes on them. And sometimes, it’s nice to look back at my days just like he did. It makes me smile to reminiscence or feel proud to see last year’s achievement. I had no idea he did a similar thing, day in and day out, but I should have. He was a simple man, one of presence, who enjoyed what each day brought.

Uncovering the many tokens touched us deeply. We glimpsed these pieces of his life over the many years. It was almost as if he was still there. Smiling through the pictures. Laughing from an audio tape. Singing while playing guitar. Writing. His hand holding the pen pressed to the paper etching his every day movements. It was how my brother discovered he was in the hospital. When he went by to check on him – his calendar note read – bad sick.

It wasn’t easy to read some of them. Especially the months that went by with no visit, or correspondence from me. It was difficult to realize, I wasn’t there for him as much as I wish I had been. It was hard knowing how disappointed he must have been when he didn’t hear from me. I had to keep in mind what joy it brought him when he did.

I have to admit, ever since we found those in his desk, I don’t look at calendar days the same way. I see an empty space to make an entry. I see what is possible to sum up a day. I see such a simple act that brings life to treasure and love to always remember.

Today, make your day count. More than that, make someone elses day count. Be the entry on their calendar. Be on their record of purpose.

Be there, before their calendar days end.