Life isn’t fair. If you grew up in my family and didn’t know this by the time you were 4 or 5, you weren’t paying attention. It was my dad’s favorite line. Complain about pretty much anything and you could expect, “Well, kid, life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”
Death isn’t fair either. 23 years ago, when I was 23, my dad died of lung cancer. He was 56.
I’ve been dreading this day, the symbolic halfway point of my life, since his death. In the year after my dad died, I took comfort in the fact that only one year ago, he was still alive. But as that horrible year after his death passed, I couldn’t think “last year he” or “last year we.” The last year was already gone.
The immediate pain of death recedes. That’s true. But the loss remains. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad. Not. One. Day. 23 years is a long time to miss someone.
And there is a lot to miss. My dad was not perfect, but boy, he was fun, the life of many parties. He would accept any last minute invitation and leave the chores for later. He taught me to swim, fish, ski, golf, shoot a basket (I never really learned that one), swing a bat, and ride a bike. There were family ski trips with the Arpins and, once, an infamous canoe trip with my uncle and cousin. He taught me to play cribbage and gin rummy and that there always needed to be some stakes (1/10 of a penny a point when I was really little) to “keep the game interesting.” He did not let me win. Ever. He taught me Irish songs, many violent or morbid, and was the one to explain to my kindergarten teacher why I sang a song about “sticking a knife in the baby’s head” for show-and-tell. (His excuse was that I spoke [and sang] so quickly he didn’t think anyone would understand me.) He fostered my love for demented Christmas trees because he and Pat Arpin would bar hop until they finally cut down the trees, leading to some interesting specimens that eventually became a family tradition. He hand wrote letters to me while I lived in Italy, which usually consisted of sports updates of the Brewers, Bucks, Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers and a few tidbits of family news. The year between college and law school when I lived at home and waitressed, he would often wait for me to get home from my weekend shifts and have a drink with me while I unwound. When I was in law school, he always took me to the airport when I left and picked me up when I came home.
He loved me and I never doubted that love. I never had an absent or disinterested father. I was his “favorite youngest daughter.”
And now, it’s the 1/2 way mark. After today, I will live more of my life without my dad than I got to live with him. It’s not fair.
Except not really. I did the math: the halfway point is really in another 336 days. So for another 336 days I can take comfort in knowing that I got to enjoy life with my dad longer than I have enjoyed life without him. And after that, I will just have to enjoy life: it’s the only way to honor the memory of someone who loved life like he did.