Friday, April 23, 2010


Last night in my ECFE class, it was announced that one of our fellow mom's father had passed away this week. He had been sick, so it was not unexpected....but no less devastating, I am sure. Since then, I have been thinking about my own dad. He died December 3, 1983. He had just turned 33 years old...four years younger than I am now. I was 11 at the time. He and I almost shared a birthday. Mine is October 2nd. His was October 3rd. For the first eleven years of my life, he and I shared a birthday celebration...shared a birthday cake. Now, I rarely think about him on my birthday. As a matter of fact, I rarely think about him at all these days. Until the announcement about my friend's father, I had not thought about him in weeks....perhaps months even.

I vividly remember the day he died. He had been battling a brain tumor. My mom was getting ready to take him to the hospital because he was sick again. He was laying on the couch in the living room as we kids were being quickly shuffled out the door to go to my grandmother's house. I was practically pushed out the door and to the car. When I got to the car, I told my family that I had not said goodbye yet. I ran back to the house to give him a big hug and kiss, totally oblivious that it would be our last hug. I remember touching the scar on his arm as I hugged him. He had first been diagnosed with a brain tumor after having a seizure at work. He worked for the local grain company and had fallen on hot metal when he had his seizure. From that day forward, he had a huge scar in the shape of the continent of Africa on his upper arm. I can't look at a picture of Africa without thinking of that scar. On the evening he died, I was in the back bedroom at my grandmother's house fighting loudly with my cousin Denny, Jr. over what we would watch on my grandma's tiny black and white TV. We always seemed to be fighting. I remember my Uncle Chris coming into the room and telling Denny to let me watch whatever I wanted. Right then, I knew that something wasn't right. That night, my mom crawled into bed with my sister Amy (who was 9 at the time) and I and woke us to tell us my dad was gone. She layed there hugging us for a while. of course, no one could sleep after that, so we eventually ended up sitting around my grandma's kitchen table, where so many important moments of my childhood were spent. I remember everyone crying. I did not cry. I couldn't. Looking back, I can't imagine the horror of having to tell my children that their other parent was gone forever. I am not sure how she survived. Even worse though, I can't imagine how my dad felt that day. I look at my own kids and I can't even fathom leaving them...knowing that I would not be there to see them grow. He had to know...he had to be thinking about his four young kids and his wife at that moment. We were his life and I can't even begin to comprehend how he felt leaving us behind.

I was always my daddy's little girl. From the moment I was born, I unequivocally belonged to him and him alone. My mom often tells me how my dad disappeared with me for hours on the day they brought me home from the hospital. She had no clue where he had taken me, but he felt the need to take me to work and show me off to all of his friends. He stopped drinking on the day I was born and I never in my lifetime saw him take so much as a sip of beer. He did that for me. I remember a time when I was little telling him that I wanted to be a famous singer one day. We had gone to see some cheesy local "child star" singing at our little town opry house. I was too shy to tell him, so I wrote him a note. I remember him hugging and kissing me and telling me that I would be the greatest singer ever. Of course, that never happened because of my definitive lack of singing talent. But he made me feel like it could happen...that I could be anything and everything.

At one point, when I was fifteen years old, I remember frantically looking through picture albums in search of a picture of him. I suddenly was unable to picture him in my head. At that moment I could not remember what he looked like and it terrified me to my very core that I could forget him. I found a picture...and from that day forward, I always kept a picture of him close by. Right now, there is a picture of him holding me when I was about three years old on my mantle at home. I promised myself that I would never ever forget him again.

I wish I had the opportunity to have known my dad as an adult. In my eyes, knowing him only as an adoring child, he will always be perfection incarnate. The perfect man. Of course, he wasn't. He was a human being...flawed like we all are. He used to drive my mother insane by refusing to fight with her. She would scream and rant and rave and he would just sit there and take it. Or even worse, he would laugh at her. I think I get my extreme distaste for conflict from him. He and I were...are... alike in many ways, I think. I wish I had known him as an an equal. I imagine the conversations we could have had. The things I could have learned from him. He did not have an easy life and I am sure he had great wisdom to impart. He was 33 years old...way too young to die. Such a waste of humanity. I sometimes think about what he would have become. I can picture him wrestling with Lucas and Nicky. He would have absolutely adored sassy little Sophie. Would he have retired by now? Would he be piddling around the house, underfoot and in the way? He would be turning 60 years old this year. I can't believe that I go weeks and sometimes months without thinking about him these days. Yes, it's been 27 years. But he was and always will be my dad. I can't allow myself to forget him.


Angie Rehnelt said...

Hi Shannon, thanks for this post. I could hardly read the last paragraph through my tears, as this hit really close to home for me. I lost my mom when I was 10 & she was 37 and I have exactly the same thoughts as you wrote. I feel like I could've written this myself with subtle differences. I admire Shirley even more after reading what you wrote. I would like to create a scrapbook that Ashlie and I could make together with old pictures and your post has motivated me to get started on that soon, real soon. Take care :)

Shannon Ralph said...

Angie--That's a wonderful idea to create a scrapbook. I am sure that is something both you and Ashlie would treasure forever. I am glad I was able to motivate you. Thanks for letting me know that my blog entry touched you. It makes me feel good to know that!

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