My father was a great man. I don’t mean he was great because he was a hero or he invented something. No, he was far greater than that.
My dad died on Sept. 6, 2008. I had brought him a cup of coffee that morning, something that had become something of a ritual. He was in a good mood, as well as he could be, hooked up to an oxygen machine, sitting in his chair that he practically lived in. He flashed his signature smile, with eyes twinkling, as if seeing me brought him the greatest joy in the world. I smiled back, gave him a kiss on the cheek and went back downstairs to get ready for work.
I wasn’t ready for what came next. A cry came from my mother, one I had never heard before. I sprinted up the stairs and was faced with the scene of her trying desperately to wake my dad up. She looked at me with pleading eyes, her voice cracking, “He won’t wake up.”
As if there was something I could do to help, I began shaking his shoulder, but I already knew. I think my mom did, too. The realization that he was gone came quickly, but the shock, denial and acceptance seem to all intertwine at once, making the moment surreal. My father was 82 years old.
My father was a great man. He lived a great life. He was a writer, an actor, a father, grandfather and a great-grandfather. He worked in an ad agency, he was a meat-cutter, he acted in commercials and local television shows, and he was a retired security guard. But these things did not define him.
My father was a friend to everyone he met. He was generous to a fault and would have given the shirt off his back if anyone had asked for it. He had a kind heart, a good soul, and loved his family more than anything else. My father was a great man because he lived what he taught.
One of the more important lessons he taught me was the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He taught me about compassion and empathy and not to judge too quickly. He taught me how to forgive, and that everyone deserves a second chance. While most fathers were able to spend their evenings with their children, he was usually working, often taking more than one job to provide for his nine children. Even as a little girl, I knew that my father was a great man.
My dad almost died when I was four-years old. He was in a car accident three days before Christmas in 1967. He died on the operating table but the doctors brought him back to life. As I was told that story many times over the years, it became clear that it was miracle that we even had him with us for 41 more years.
My father wasn’t perfect. He had his faults, as we all do. He learned from his mistakes, often sharing stories of his own life lessons. His crazy sense of humor, his fun-loving, sometimes wild, antics inspired us to love him more.
He is still with us. I see him in my children, my grandchildren, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. And I see him in me, more every day. I see a love for writing, a kind and caring spirit, and a desire to help people. I see that his death was not an ending, but a continuation of everything he was.
He is far from gone. He lives in the way my daughter holds her newborn son and the way my granddaughter savors the last bite of her ice cream. He is seen in my grandson’s infectious smile and kind heart.
I miss my dad but I know that all I have to do is look at my family and see him there. I believe that greatness is not measured by what you accomplish while you’re on Earth, but from the number of lives you touch while you are here and even after you’re gone. Yes, my father was indeed a great man.