Our Unbreakable Bond

The cemetery was full of swaying trees and bright sunlight; the dancing rays sparkling within the reds and golds of the leaves. Gazing at the rows of gray stones, I felt a gentle stirring of peace blossoming from within, spreading around me with its warm embrace. I stood alone on a grassy hill and listened to the wind.  I wanted to hear the voices of those who had passed on. Those buried in the ground were dust and bones now, their spirits set free a long time ago. Still, I wanted to hear my father. I closed my eyes.

“Hey, Mom!” my son yelled from a distance. “We found him!”

I smiled as I crouched down on the cold ground next to my son. He read the name of the tombstone aloud with excitement, “Ralph E. Stairs.”

“That is your grandfather,” I said with a heavy weight in my voice.  “My dad. He died 20 years ago this month.” My fingers traced the dates etched in the granite.

“Wow! So you were pretty young then, huh?” my son remarked, then ran off to the next row of stones before I had a chance to tell him more about my dad; the incredible grandpa he had never met. How could I express what my dad meant to me or the person he was? Will my son ever know? Will I continue to remember?

When I was a young girl, my father was my entire world. The phrase “Daddy’s Girl” originated the day I was born. The man who raised me was an unique dad. He was sensitive to our emotional needs, and he always took the time to be present with me and my brothers. He enjoyed doing things with us, whether it was coaching our Peewee baseball league (I was shortstop), shooting hoops in the driveway, or sitting on the front porch chatting with us on a warm summer evening.

He was a slight man, tall and thin. His personality was one of quiet support, and he was very gentle in his ways. There was hardly a time when he raised his voice to yell and he never laid a hand to spank. He raised us on two things: love and respect. He disciplined us the hard way, by somehow convincing us that doing the right thing was the only thing. It was expected of us. If we dared to screw up (and we often did during the teen years) nothing would be more damaging then the moment our dad would peer over his glasses, sigh and sternly say, “I’m very disappointed in you.” This was the worst punishment we could ever face.

Being his only girl, he went out of his way for me. If I needed a certain piece of piano sheet music, he’d drive with me all over the state to find it. If I had a baton competition two hours away, he’d be there in the stands, his eyeglasses reflecting in the lights. As long as I knew he was there to cheer me on, I could do anything. He was my constant support. In many ways, he was like a mother to me; nurturing, loving and proud. These were the traits my own mother lacked. When I was sick, he would come home from work with some ginger ale and rub my back until I felt better. Every night, I would say, “Good night, Dad! I love you very much!” as he tucked me in. I’d wait for him to say, “I love you, too” so I could close my eyes and safely dream.

During the last years of his life, I was just embarking on my college adventures. I was an awkward, shy teenager, unsure of my place in the world. I began to see my dad as a man, separate from me, with a past of his own. We started to have deeper conversations about life’s pain, sorrows and regrets. When I told him about my fear of leaving home, he discussed with me his time in the Navy, a young man fresh out of the Bronx, full of excitement and fear when he was shipped out to sea. We talked about family and death. His own beloved father, my grandfather, died at 53. He told me how hard it was, growing up poor in New York, having to make dinner with his brother and sisters while his mother worked all day and night as a waitress. Being so centered in my own world and consumed with my own problems, I realized I didn’t know much about my dad’s history.

Now, I would give anything to sit on the front porch with him again and have one last conversation. I would ask him more about his childhood. I would ask him endless questions. What was he afraid of? What made him happy? What did he miss? And did he miss me as much as I missed him?

I would tell him about his grandkids. Did he know that my son loves soccer? And that he has inherited the same gentle, loving, sensitive spirit? Did he know that my daughter is a dancer and loves to sing? Did he know that I met and married the love of my life? Did he know that I wanted him to walk me down the aisle? Did he know that I graduated college? Did he see any of this? Was he proud of me?

Standing at his grave this week, I knew the answer.

I slowly brushed the leaves away to reveal the date: Nov 17 1991.  “Hi, Dad,” I said aloud. “Hope you’re doing okay.” I stared at his name and imagined his face again. I could see his blue eyes twinkling at me, the sides of his mouth curving up into a laugh. My dad and I were sharing a secret only the two of us knew. “I miss you,” I added as I walked away.

As we pulled out of the cemetery, I noticed the blue eyes reflecting in the rearview mirror–piercing, knowing, twinkling.

My eyes. My dad’s eyes.

My Dad

80 thoughts on “Our Unbreakable Bond

  1. Oh my goodness this is beautiful! You have done it again. You have rendered a touching, wonderful memory for your “family book.” I can identify. I had such a warm, sensitive dad who knew hard times, but protected us as only he could. This has made me…well, tear up. Hugs Darla, on this poignant anniversary.

  2. What a beautiful testament to a wonderful father-daughter combination. And to love that will always last.

    I’m starting the day with tears in my eyes, and a sad smile on my face. Missing my own dad, and smiling to think of him. A lovely way to start the week.

  3. What A beautiful and touching post…. which has made me speechless (Wordless). I have no words to describe how good is this. Who says men can’t cry! just make a man read this one who loves his dad, tears are going to come in his eyes for sure. And yes only a daughter can express such feelings for his dad, may be that’s why people termed it as, daddy’s girl & Mama’s boy.

    One word to summarize all. This post of yours is truly….. awesome, awesome, awesome…. (n times)! You are too good Darla, keep writing!

    1. Oh, thank you so much, Arindam, for all of your kind words! They’ve really made my day.

      I can see with my own daughter and the great relationship she shares we her father, that she is a Daddy’s Girl, too. I remember someone telling me a saying, “Although you’re a dad when you have a son, you’re a daddy when you have a girl.”

      1. That saying you mentioned is really a good one and a true one. I found a small writer in me when i wrote a note for my mom. That was for the first time i was appreciated for my writing. Then only i started blogging. That note i posted in my blog also, when ever you will be free if you can then check that one. Its those feelings of a son for his mom or a daughter for her dad his so true that it automatically comes on paper.
        You actually deserve all the applause for this post Darla, i read this post at least 10times in two days. 🙂

  4. Snoring Dog Studio

    This was difficult to read because of the shared emotions – but it was beautifully written. What a fine tribute to an amazing, compassionate dad. He did well.

    1. It is difficult. I have been meaning to write more about my dad and it’s only taken me 20 years. It’s hard but necessary, I want to keep his memory alive as he was such a special man and incredible father. Thanks, SDS, my greatest hope is that “he did well” with me.

  5. This is such a beautiful and touching post. I don’t know if I have more words to express how moving it was. I’m sorry you had to lose him so young, but I’m happy the years you had with him were so wonderful and filled with so much love. I know I’m very lucky to still have my dad around, and I love those rare moments when I have him to myself and I get to learn more about him as a person, not just as my dad. Thank you for sharing something so personal and heart-wrenching, it was a beautiful read to find this morning.

    1. That is the main thing in my heart, Dounia–I was so lucky just to have him in my life at all and for 21 years he taught me so much about life and what it is to be a parent. I am grateful I had a dad like him.

  6. Mary the OINKteller

    Oh Darla, that was lovely. It brought tears to my eyes and that’s no easy feat (it’s uncanny how your writing does that to me!). You wrote about your Dad beautifully. Wherever his spirit is now, he must be so proud of you. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I was moved to tears, Darla. I reflected back to the September just before my Dad died. We sat on the porch of a bed n’ breakfast in PA, where we were attending a wedding. My Dad and I had a long conversation about this and that – he was gone the following February. I don’t have his beautiful blue eyes – but my oldest son does. Heartwarming.

    1. Lenore, it’s amazing how we think back to those last conversations in our minds. How special that you and your dad had the chance for a long talk right before he died. And how lovely that your son shares your dad’s blue eyes!

      The year my dad died, I flew out west to go to college in August and didn’t see him again. Never had a chance to say goodbye. The last time I talked to him was at the airport. It’s almost like I’m trying to keep time frozen there, so I can remember his voice and his face. After so many years, it is hard, which is why memories are so important. And I want my kids to know about him before I pass on.

  8. It’s a bit uncanny that we would both write about our fathers on the same day. This post of yours is so beautiful and heartbreaking. I think we will always remember, especially when you have a chance to pass the memories on to your children.
    From one Daddy’s girl, whose Novembers are also sad, to another…

    1. Leonore, I had chills when I realized you and I both posted about our late father’s anniversaries within mere MINUTES of each other. Seriously, that is quite the coincidence. I believe in signs and that was a big one for me. Your tribute to your dad was so positive and you could see he was full of love, life and laughter. I loved the picture of you two dancing at the wedding. He seemed like such a character. Seems like both our dads were special and amazing men! (and both lived in New York too!) I’ll be thinking of you this month as the memories take over. Big hugs to you.

  9. Miracle Mama, you have a way with words.

    In the Philippines we have a saying, “Death is not final. It is just a change of address.” I am sure your Dad is with you always and is proud of you.

    As you know I lost my Dad a couple of years ago. I have the same thought processes you do.

    November is a big month for me too. It was the month I found out my Dad was dying, but it was also the month that I had both of my sons. One was born on November 17.


    1. Louise, I absolutely believe that “Death is not final. It is just a change of address.”

      There is no doubt both of our dads are with us all the time and are proud of us. I hope this month of November brings you joy with your sons’ birthdays. My daughter was born November 28th so it helps to have that positive celebration to look forward to as well.

  10. How very lovely and moving this is. I’m so sorry you lost your dad early, and that your kids didn’t get a chance to know him. With your gift for words, maybe you can make him live for them in your stories, like this.

  11. So deeply touching. Your Dad was amazing. I now realize how incredibly lucky I am to still have my father (even with his mind starting to go now) here. We’ve never had those deep conversations you were priviledged to have. (Must be my Dad’s being raised by an Englishman- where you didn’t talk about your feelings). I envy the relationship you two had.

    My heart goes out to you. And, yes, your Dad knows all about your husband, your kids and your life, and I know he’s totally proud.

    1. Sue, I have to say, my father wasn’t a talker either. (interesting that his name, Stairs is descendent from the English as well) He was very quiet and unassuming, almost shy in a way. But toward the end of his life, he suddenly started opening up. He’d have these conversations with me and my brother about things in his past we knew nothing about. I think he somehow knew his time was coming. I only wish I had talked with him more!

  12. Hi,
    So beautifully written. It is always sad to lose a loved one, no matter how long ago, but it’s the wonderful memories that are ours forever that can bring a smile.

  13. What a beautiful tribute to your father. Your children may not appreciate it now, but I’m certain they will later. I am very blessed to still have both of my parents. I can’t imagine the day Dad will not be here.

  14. It seems to me, girls who are fortunate to have a good quality relationship with their fathers will usually grow up to find a man who makes them a good partner in life. SO that was another gift from your father!

  15. John Erickson

    This was wonderfully written, and I have no doubt you will be able to teach your son about his grandad. You obviously share the great amount of love he carried in his heart, as you share with your son and all of us. You are very much your father’s daughter, and you can be sure he is VERY proud of that fact.

  16. This was so beautiful, Darla, that I’m wiping away tears. Your father sounds like such a wonderful man, and I know he’d be so proud of you. I’m glad that you can see him in yourself, because he is so clearly there.

  17. pattisj

    Darla, this is such a poignant piece, there was obviously so much love shared in this relationship. I can identify with mariner2mother, she describes the relationship I had, as well. Darn those Englishmen! Sorry you lost your dad when you were so young, but I agree with the others, your children will know him well through your beautiful, heartfelt words.

    1. Patti, my dad is descendent from England and he was very reserved in his personality. He had lots of love and sensitivity in his heart I’m sure, but he wasn’t an extroverted person by any means. He started talking more with me the last year of his life. I’m grateful he opened up at all before he left.

  18. Beautifully written. Very sweet and poignant. My dad is still living but I’ve been thinking a lot about the strongest impressions and memories of him from growing up and what my kids will remember about me when I’m gone and I’d be satisfied if it were half as positive as your memories of your dad..

    1. Paul, I’m sure they will be even more so! You’re a wonderful father. Be sure and write down these memories you have of your dad. Ask you dad about stories from his past. You’d be surprised how hard it is to remember certain details once you get older.

  19. Priya

    I am terrified of losing my parents. Especially before I have children, before they grow up old enough to remember them. As I watch them fade, physically and emotionally, I fear an imminent loss.

    When I was reading this tribute, however, I saw a ray of hope. Your father lives through you, in you. Your children might not know just how blue his eyes were, but they sure can learn to appreciate it in you. I shall remember this whenever I begin to lose hope.

    Thank you, Darla.

    1. Priya, it is something we all face and it is terrifying. For me, the main thing is to try and appreciate our parents while they are still here, talk to them about their past. My mom is almost 78 years old now, and we’ve had some very deep conversations this past year. I am grateful I’ve learned more about her. I have to be sure to write it all down so there’s some record I can pass on to my kids.

      And my dad does live in me, I have his blue eyes, I have his DNA, I have his spirit and his memories. My kids will have mine. It’s an unbreakable connection.

  20. My congratulations on a beautiful tribute Darla. Love the photo.
    Writing something about one’s long dead parent is one of the hardest things to do. I know all too well. My father died 23 years ago and I still have to write something about him.

    I wept as I read this, and then I wept because you’d written this today, on what would have been my father’s 102 birthday.

    1. Rosie, as you know, it doesn’t matter that it was 20 years ago or last year, the memories are still fresh in my mind and bring out such rawness of emotion. While I typed this out, I cried. Then I came back to respond to comments and I’m crying like a baby again. It’s hard to stop once it starts. Our grief may fade into the background, but it’s always there when we remember who we miss so much. I am sorry you’ve lost your dad. I’ll be thinking of you today.

  21. Beautiful tribute to your dad. It is amazing how a person can captivate us.. I’m sure he would be honored to know the depth of the impression he made on your life. My grandfather left a similar impression on me. I like to think he’s still here picking me up when I fall. 🙂 Great post!

  22. Val

    Beautiful post, Darla, and your dad most certainly lives inside you – in memories, in actuality. Don’t worry about forgetting him: you won’t. He’ll be with you to the end of your life and beyond through your children and their children. Hugs.

  23. I’ve been having similar thoughts about my father lately. For some reason, in the past few years I’ve begun to wonder what kinds of things my father struggled with, and what his private thoughts may have been about. As children and teenagers, we tend to measure our parents by how much they satisfy our needs and wants, and it’s easy to forget that they’re people, too, with hopes and dreams, fears and weaknesses.

    As I read this, I couldn’t help connecting it with the earlier post you wrote about your Dad’s death. The love you shared is moving in so many ways, and it’s heartening to know that you’re passing that love down to your own kids. Your father would be proud, Darla.

    1. That’s it, Charles. I wonder about his innermost thoughts. He died so young that I didn’t even have a chance to get to really know him. This is one of the main things I feel cheated out of– hearing his opinion and advice. I always think, what would my dad say about this? If only I could hear him now. I can feel his presence sometimes, but it’s not enough for me.

      I think the greatest gift my father could ever give me is passing that love down to his grandkids.

  24. Beautiful! I was especially touched by your last line. I lost my dad just over a decade ago, and like you, I have his eyes.

    I have totally blog-stalked and am going to enjoy following. Your writing is honest, open, heartfelt, and funny.

    Cheers and happy blogging!

    1. Transitioning Mom, thank you so much for your kind comments. They’ve really made my day.

      I am so sorry you’ve lost your father as well. I do look like my dad in lots of ways, so it’s easy to remember him when I look in the mirror.

  25. So beautifully written. I now need to go re apply my make-up. I had a good sob. We lost both my mother in law and father in law within a year of each other last year and are still very much grieving. Such a wonderful tribute to your father. Glad I stopped by.

  26. Oh Darla, I don’t know how I missed this post of yours. And now I can hardly see to type, as you’ve made me cry.

    Your emotion, endurance, love and the respect you have for your father and your relationship with him is simply beautiful. Thank you for this look into your world.

    What a remarkable man he was. I love how you described him, a slight man, tall and thin, and one who would drive you all over the state for a piece of sheet music. It’s perfect. I can imagine him in my head. And he seems like a phenomenal person — the embodiment of the perfect father. Stern, yet quiet. And loving.

    Beautiful, powerful, ending.

    1. Thank you so much, Melissa, for your kind words! He was one of a kind, that’s for sure. I like to think he helped make me into the parent I am today. He taught me the most important things in life in the short time I knew him.

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