An Open Letter To My Dad on His First Birthday Without My Mom

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I know today is hard. I know that, at the core of everything, the only wish you feel like making tonight as you wave your hand above the birthday cake, is that mom was still here with us to celebrate. I wish she was too. I wish it could be like the olden days, where the three of us huddle around the kitchen island, blowing out candles, and eating too much cake while you sit there and open up your gifts you’re genuinely surprised to get (but let’s face it, will never use).

I wish for that.

I wish that things could be different. I wish that I had cherished the birthdays we’ve had more than I did, because now, those memories light up happy times.

Today will be tough.

But the love we all shared is tougher.

Today, I don’t think about who is missing, but rather who stood by us all those years with a smile on her face, and too much cake on her plate. I think about her voice singing happy birthday. I think about all the times we blew out the candles on the cake with a dinner plate instead of the traditional way. I think about all the times mom and me raced through JC Penney’s trying to buy you a new shirt (or several), or the perfect kind of shoes, or how she would talk non-stop about getting you the newest book you wanted about politics.

I think back to all the times we spent together preparing for your birthday to make it special: to how she always managed to buy you the perfect cake, how her face lit up and how excited she was to be spending yet another year of her life watching you celebrate one of yours.

Today, those memories are at the forefront of my mind and I hope they are for you. I hope today, in the sting of painful realities, that you can think back to the memories we all had years before. Mom has never left us because she lives through us. Her words, her goals, her personality, her mannerisms, they’ve been ingrained in us. Whether we act on impulse, or we immediately think, ‘Oh, I can only imagine your mother’s reaction,” it’s just a further reminder of how much she still carries on.

Today is no different.

Today is a day worth celebrating.

It’s a day to celebrate what a life you had. It’s a day to celebrate owning your own successful business for decades at a time. It’s a day to celebrate the hard work ethic you’ve instilled in all of your children – and how it eliminates the panic of wondering, “what do I do if I need money?”

It’s a day worth celebrating a lifetime of memories, and cake, and blowing out candles, and good times (and yes, even the rougher times) spent with a woman you loved more than life itself. A woman, who loved you an indescribable amount.

Because those are good memories.

Today, is a day that I know I want to celebrate.

Because, dad, you are a man worth the celebration. You’ve instilled in me what it means to be strong, to be earnest, to be proud when I accomplish something good because dammit, I earned it. You’ve been my companion, my biggest coach, my biggest supporter, my biggest fan since the moment I entered your life.

You’ve taught me what it means to be a good person, because I follow your example through and through.

You’re a man that’s gotten me through hard times, and you still do. So even when times feel bleak, remember that your life has made an impact. Your life has been one of great achievement, and entrepreneurship, and kindness, and overwhelming support. And, when all else fails, remember you’re a man who can lay down a wooden floor, and hey, you can also paint a picture.

Happy Birthday.

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