As father day approaches, I’m reflecting on the time I had with my dad. We lost him to cancer in the summer of 2017. That same year, I lost one of my aunts (dad’s side) and two other friends to cancer. It was a very hard year. One that had me rethinking my priorities about life and spending time with loved ones. This is one of the reasons I decided to start my photography business, I do not want regrets later in life and I want to help create happy memories for others.
My dad served in the military. He enlisted just before the Vietnam war and spent over a decade in the service. He met my mom while stationed in San Diego, California and they had a couple of kids (I made my appearance). Then he was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia where they had another child. While there, I attended some elementary school and developed the cutest little accent, and ultimately my father was discharged from the service. We then packed up our family van and had a very adventurous road trip back to San Diego (oh - my mom was very pregnant with my youngest brother for the road trip). At the age of 15, my parents divorced and shortly after that my dad moved back to his hometown in Michigan. His mom and sisters still lived in the area. We (siblings and mom) remained in Southern California. I didn’t see much of my father after he moved. This was back in the day of long-distance phone charges and US postal mail only. No social media or free long distance calls on your cell phone (we didn’t even have cell phones!). That made staying in touch even more challenging. My dad suffered from PTSD like many other vets but didn’t get the help needed. We had a strained relationship. I’m sure a lot of children of vets can relate. It is a tough road to navigate.
Summer of 2017
After years of working on building a better relationship with my dad and step-mom, I was beginning to feel like we were on the right track. We were having fun conversations and he even opened a Facebook account a year or so earlier so we could share even more of our lives with him. I would share stories about my travels and he would comment – sometimes he would mention places he went while in the service. Growing up he never talked about his time in the service so this was something new and connected us even more.
In early July 2017, my step-mom sent an urgent text asking the kids to call my dad ASAP! They aren’t overly dramatic people so when I saw it was urgent, I knew I needed to call. It was the middle of a work day (I had an office job at the time), but I stopped working and made the call. When they said he just found out that he had stage 4 cancer it took my breath away. I was glad to be sitting down for the news. It didn’t seem real. They were going to do more testing to see if it was possible to try treatment and see how far it had spread. After a tortuous week or so, which seemed like months, we finally got the news that the cancer wasn’t treatable and they didn’t expect him to live more than six months. Somehow I just knew time wasn’t going to be on our side.
All the kids (me and my siblings) decided we need to get out to see him right away. We all felt like that we needed to see him sooner rather than later. Our arrival times staggered but we had a day that overlapped all of our travel. For one day, my dad had all five of his kids together again. That had not happened in more than 30 years for a variety of reasons. It was a precious visit with our dad and we were able to get one final photo with all of us together.
During our trip dad talked more openly about his time in the service, how the divorce from my mother impacted him, and so many other little things. I felt so close to him after my visit. And, at the same time, felt cheated because I knew I didn’t have long with him.
A couple of weeks after our visit to Michigan, I got the call that dad passed. One short month from the day I found out about his cancer and he was gone. There were so many things still to tell him! I thought I would have time to share stories about my life and travels. I was stunned and numb.
I wish I had more photos of us together, more cards and letters to re-read, and more memories of visits and laughs we shared. I’ll keep what I have close and cherish it. I’m so thankful for those memories.
Wishing all dads, a very Happy Father’s Day.
In Loving Memory
Thinking of my dad this Father’s Day. Wishing we had more time.