This week, my father celebrated a milestone birthday. He has lived longer than both parents and his baby sister by several years.
As we gathered to celebrate his life, it was odd. It is hard to not remember him as the man I knew as we grew up. I thought he was a movie star, handsome with his blue eyes and dark hair. Daddy also was always quick to socialize and to lend a helping hand any way he could.
I can recall how he spent hours trying to teach a dyslexic little girl how to tie her shoes, demonstrating it over and over as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing and what my fingers were trying to do.
I remember him playing on a fast-pitch softball team and in a bowling league, then coaching my big brother on his swing for Little League.
Daddy helped us select, tame, then shave the tails and ears of hogs for 4-H projects. He assisted with the youth group in our church and sang in the choir. He ate some truly disastrous first meals as I developed cooking skills. I can picture him repairing the cars, hanging wallpaper or fixing the plumbing from time to time. Always busy and taking care of his family.
A hard worker, he would come home exhausted from working a swing shift, and then after a few hours of sleep, he would work alongside mom in the garden, or push my brother and I on the swings. The year of the blizzard, he spent hours in the barn milking cows by hand only to watch all that milk go down the drain because the milk trucks could not get through.
Like snapshots, other memories flash through my head. Dad cutting and stacking piles of wood to keep us warm in the winter; rototilling the garden; cheering my brother on at his basketball games; sledding down the hill at the farm; showing off a fish he caught; attending my college graduation; working at the treasurer of Ohio booth at the state fair handing out bags of shredded money; or escorting me down the aisle at my wedding.
It is hard to reconcile my memories of him, the man who would argue about everything at the drop of a hat, with the silent individual next to me now. Illness has taken away the person we knew and replaced him with a stranger in some ways. Some days are better than others. Occasionally, the ornery spirit will fight its way to the surface, and he will say something that throws us all off guard and secretly delight us. Then he will go silent again, an observer rather than a participant.
But for today, he is still my daddy. Happy birthday, I love you.