My dad would have turned 60 today.
Instead, he died at age 45 to lung cancer. I don't remember how he spent his last birthday, but I remember how he spent his 44th - with my mom & me & one of his best friends & his family just down the road in Northern Virginia, where my faux-cousins & I built him "Track 44," a toy racetrack made of Legos, Lincoln Logs, miniature racecars & anything else we could find. I think there was a skit to go along with it, or maybe just that little kid excitement that makes everything feel really, really theatrical. The cake had 44 candles, no joke, plus a couple of racecar pens I got from Burger King kids' meals. My dad's hair was gone, & his mustache, too, but even near the end, the cancer never took his laugh or his love or his spirit.
I've already told you about my dad. He was a full foot taller than my mom & liked to call me "Boogaloo." He loved "Home Improvement" & Oreos & NASCAR & bad jokes & oldies music & hamburgers from Swenson's. He was afraid of birds & hated tomatoes. He picked me up from all my dance classes & drove me to day camp every summer morning, & he came to an Odyssey of the Mind competition when my team made states, even though he had to rent a wheelchair to make it there. He wrote in all caps & helped me with my math homework & sometimes brought golf carts home from work that, when I was lucky, he'd take me & the neighbors for rides in.
I don't know that much about my dad, but I know that my mom's & my lives are immensely, immeasurably different than they would have been had he beat the cancer that ultimately took him. I can't help but wonder who he was & who he would have been now, what he would have told me, what he would have taught me & what we would've done together. What would we have laughed over, argued about? Would we be as close as I like to think? Am I as like him as I like to hope? What kind of family would we be? What would I think of him now?
I know that I am very, very unlucky not to have known this charismatic, memorable man for as long as so many others did - but I am so, so lucky to call myself his daughter, even now.
Happy Birthday, Dad.