I can still remember the last phone conversation I had with my dad. I was a sophomore in college and talked to my parents frequently since we were a few states apart. We ended the conversation, and I hung up. I stood in my dorm room for a moment a little confused. Had I really ended our talk without telling my dad that I loved him? I couldn’t remember saying, “I love you.” My heart started beating faster as I frantically picked up the phone and punched in the numbers again.
My dad picked up the phone and was surprised to hear my voice. “Dad,” I yelped, “I forgot to say that I love you!” My dad chuckled and said, “Grace, I know you love me. You didn’t have to call me back, but I’m glad you did. And I love you.”
It was a simple, fast phone call. A few more sentences were thrown out there, and then we said our goodbyes. And that was the last time I talked to my dad.
Two days later he died in his sleep from a heart attack.
This past March was the sixteenth year that he’s been gone. It’s strange for me to think about him being gone that long. So much has happened to me in those sixteen years. And my dad wasn’t there for any of of it.
And that breaks my heart.
It’s hard losing a parent. As in, it qualifies as the most difficult and saddest thing I’ve ever experienced. For my mom, brother and I, there was no warning of my dad’s passing. No one knew he had heart disease. He was healthy, happy, and took care of himself and his family. And he loved us well. So, so well.
My kids are 7, 5, and 3 — so they don’t fully understand the details about my dad. They know their grandpa is in heaven, but it confuses them that they have a grandpa they’ve never met. It’s a tough balancing act for me to know how much I should talk about him. I want my kids to know what an amazing dad I had, but I also don’t want to obsessively talk about him.
The day my parents dropped me off at college.
My dad was, hands-down, the best dad I knew. I swear that my friends hung out with me because they loved my parents more than they liked me. He was just that kind of man. People were drawn to his friendly, caring, and humorous personality. At his funeral service, the church was packed because he was a man that loved others well. He was kind, and he was good. My dad taught me what it meant to live like Jesus and to show everyone grace no matter what . . . which is something I’ll probably be working on for the rest of my life. He didn’t judge (except for the one time my mom made a spinach, mustard & tofu quiche), and he loved well.
The most important parenting tip I learned from my dad is to love my kids well.
Never once did I doubt my dad’s love. I knew he loved me despite being a moody, hormonal, sassy, strong-willed daughter. He loved me not in spite of my flaws — but including my flaws. And that’s what I’m trying to do for my kids. I want them to know that I love them no matter what. . . just the way my dad loved me.