Wednesday, Flag Day, was my dad's 80th birthday. When I drove through our sleepy downtown (all of one street) early that morning, flags bedecked nearly every building. I smiled and thought of Dad. How did he get to be 80, I wonder?
Just the other day, it seems, he ran alongside me as I took my first solo two-wheeler bike ride. "No training wheels," Dad said. He was convinced I could ride without them.
"But Dad," I protested. "I can't reach the pedals."
He tightened the blocks around the pedals. "There you go, Deb. You can do it!"
Of course, he was right beside me, running along with his hand balancing the back of the seat. It was only when I realized he had let go that I panicked and crashed.
"You did great!" Dad beamed. I wasn't so sure, I thought, rubbing my skinned knees.
Dad insisted that I get back on the bike and try again. He was always there but let go more frequently. He was right. I could do it myself.
And that's how it's been throughout my life. Dad has always been there to cheer me on, to nudge me out of my comfort zone, to believe in me when I hardly had any confidence of my own.
When I approached my half-century birthday, I became more aware that Dad wouldn't always be here. And now, five years later, I am faced with reality. Dad was diagnosed about a year ago with a form of dementia called Pick's Syndrome. I've watched him slowly slip away from being the invincible, self-assured man I could always go to when I needed advice, or that special dose of self confidence. I suddenly feel like I'm 8 years old on my first solo bike ride, wobbly and panicked when I realize no one's holding onto the bike seat. I miss you already, Dad.
But I remember he's trained me well. He's given me the ability to venture into unknown arenas and know I'll be OK.
Randy and I are traveling over the mountains today to Washington's Olympic peninsula where my parents live. My four brothers and families will be there from various parts of the U.S. to celebrate Dad and all he means to us. It's our turn to walk alongside him, steadying his wobbly steps, and assuring him we will always be here for him.
Not all have been fortunate to have a dad like mine but many of us have that unmistakable imprint of a father's love in our lives. I hope you have the opportunity to tell your dad.