How does one say, “My daddy died today,” without being gauche, blasé, or melodramatic?  It’s a sentence of just four words, but it carries the weight of a loaded freighter.  How do you tell the world?  How do you tell your sisters?  How do you say the words without choking on them?

For a moment this afternoon I was tempted to simply wear a sign that said, “Welcome back to the USA, now you can plan a funeral,” but that seemed too flippant.  The other temptation was to pull all the sadness over me like a shroud and simply wallow in it, but that would have been too morose.  Both extremes were equally disproportionate, and equally dishonest as to how I felt as I made phone calls and talked with my sisters about plans.  Mostly I think we all three felt a little shell-shocked.

My relationship with my daddy has never been really clear.  When I was tiny he was the tallest, strongest, most wonderful man in the world, my play-mate and my idol.  By the time I started school, he was the fallen hero who I saw once a month when my granny and I took the long drive up to see him in prison.  As a middle-schooler he was both the target of my anger and the one person whose attention I wanted most.  By my teenage years he was a joke, “Underwear Man”, mostly only ever appearing late at night in his tighty-whitey’s when my friends and I were making too much noise upstairs.  In my twenties I struggled to forge a relationship with him, writing letters, making calls, paying visits…but I was as out of his world as I had always been.  If I called or showed up he was thrilled to chat with me and effusively glad I was there, but he wasn’t going out of his way to keep in touch any more than he ever had.  Eventually I came to terms with who and what he was, and what I could hope for from him, and I let go.

He was an addict, a womanizer, and a liar, but he was also a giver, a dreamer, and a big-hearted story-teller.  He’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, and keep you entertained with tales of big fish, accommodating women, and wild adventures.  He’d cook you a meal and share a toke, but if you weren’t right there you were off his radar.  He’d cry over how much he loved his girls and talk proudly of our accomplishments, but for the most part his attention and affection didn’t leave his own front porch.

I never doubted that my daddy loved me.  And he never doubted that I loved him.  But we rarely saw one another or spoke.  There wasn’t much to say.  Now, even that is beyond us.

Today, my daddy, the wildest, most enigmatic man I’ve ever known, had a heart attack.  He died.  I wish I could have been there just to say ‘goodbye,’ but I know he knew how I felt, complicated as it was.

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

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