The soft padded chair envelopes me in memories of my father, the leather worn where his arms once rested. I run my fingers over the smooth patches to get a sense of him, breath deep the scent of leather and success. From this chair he managed a real estate and banking business, arranged our summer vacations to the Southwest and designed his dream home in Montana.
My father’s legacy is now tucked away in the cardboard boxes that surround me, his voice a distant echo against these bare walls.
Packing up his office, I come across a grainy, black and white photo that sparks memories of a father who carried me on his shoulders in the pool, made me laugh with his Cookie Monster imitations and when I was older, shared his quiet wisdom with me on a porch in Whitehall, Montana.
The world will remember him as a successful entrepreneur who was larger than life; an intense man of intellect, integrity and power with a lifelong pursuit of excellence. To me, he was just Dad — — the man who was my shelter in a world of uncertainties. No matter my age, I was still his little girl.
At times he was imposing and strict, reprimanding me when I tested the limits of his patience. Like any teen, I resented his advice until I had children of my own and understood that the boundaries he set were rooted in love.
There was also a softer side to my father that few people knew. He could be moved to tears when listening to a Wagner opera or the complexities of a Mahler symphony. His eyes misted over whenever he expressed his love and gratitude for my mother. And he hugged us tightly, as if he never meant to let go. When I close my eyes, I can still feel his arms around my shoulders and the soft fabric of his shirt against my cheek.
When my father was first diagnosed with blood cancer, there was no doubt in my mind that this powerful man would beat the disease. We’d spent an entire summer together tracing his ancestral roots and discovered that longevity was in his family genes.
He fought the good fight with chemotherapy but the insidious cancer robbed him of all the simple joys in life. The gourmet food and wine he once loved tasted like cardboard as he battled daily against nausea and fatigue. It was difficult watching a man who was once active in sports and a strong force in the boardroom become fragile and confused. I couldn’t accept defeat, even as the soft angles of his face were sharpened by rapid weight loss from the disease.
I realized cancer was winning the day I embraced him and felt the knotted rope of his spine against my fingertips. He no longer had the strength to hug me back.
My father spent his last days in Hospice with his family surrounding him. I remember how his eyes lit up when we walked into the room and his feeble attempt to squeeze my hand when I sat beside him on the bed. Choking back tears, I spoon fed him his dinner and reminisced about happier times. Looking back, I should have played Wagner or Mahler to soothe him, but I like to think the music was still there, playing in his dreams and lulling him to sleep.
We lost him two weeks before Father’s Day. And just as I did when I was a child, I pressed my face against his chest and heard the last beat of his heart.
My father has always been my idol and the inspiration that drives me to succeed. He saw the potential in the humorous stories I wrote and encouraged me to become the writer I am today. He believed in me when I was unable to believe in myself, pushing me to heights unimaginable.
I miss his humor and the deep chuckle that resonated in his voice when he regaled us with tales from his youth. I miss our road trips, family holidays and the laughter we shared over a good bottle of wine. But most of all, I miss his strong embrace.
I feel him now in the threads of Mahler’s music and the stories I write from the comfort of his brown leather chair. When I look to the west, I see his smile beyond the darkness, a shooting star that leaves a bright tail across the summer night.