My father died yesterday.
It was sudden, like death always is. But it had been a long time coming. He didn’t take care of himself. He was overweight and a former smoker (30+ years). He had struggled with depression and anxiety for decades.
He wasn’t happy. And that always made me sad. And frustrated because there was nothing I — or anyone else — could do about it. (Trust me, we tried.)
My dad and I weren’t all that close, which is a weird thing to say as an only child who, now, only has a mom left. But, as I worked to raise my own family and build a career — and he retreated from, well, most things — we struggled to find common ground. We’d talk, on occasion, on the phone. But, mostly he wasn’t a presence in my life. Or me in his.
I wish that last paragraph was different. I wish I could say my dad and I talked every day. I always envied friends who had that sort of relationship with their dads — or even people who would write stories or books about journeys they had taken with their dad (spiritual or physical) or how they had some sort of dramatic reconciliation later in life.
But, that wasn’t in the cards for me and Dad. I’m not sure why. Both of our faults probably. We wanted better and more. Just couldn’t — or didn’t — make it happen.
In the time since I got the call from my mom that my dad had passed away, though, I’ve had time to think about him — and the things I loved about him.
You didn’t know him. But I wanted to tell you a few things about him — my dad, John Charles Cillizza.
- He had a kind face. My dad was a teacher, which meant he had summers off. My mom worked — so it was just me and my dad all summer long. A few mornings a week, we would drive to the McDonald’s in the next town over (the town I grew up in was small and didn’t have its own fast food)to get breakfast or lunch. We’d order, sit down, start to eat and then, almost every time (not kidding!) an older person would sidle up and just start talking to my dad. About their families, their son, their lives. And he would listen patiently and ask questions. Sometimes this went on for our entire meal. I’d always ask Dad when we left why “old people” (I was 12-ish and thought everyone over 40 was old) liked him so much. He said he didn’t know, they just did. I realized as I got older that it was his face; it was kind and inviting, the sort of face that made you think he might not mind you pulling up a chair and chatting.