“Happy Birthday, Daddy”

“Well, hell-OOOH.”

I grin at the sound of the steady, familiar voice, unaffected by advanced age. “How are you doing, Dad?” My voice travels back to him over 2,100 miles, from my new home in Nova Scotia to his room at a nursing home in my Iowa hometown.

“I’m feeling pretty good. I can’t believe I’ve lived to be 99 years old.”

Neither can I. After the pericardium that strangled his heart was peeled away, doctors told my mother and I he would not celebrate his 70th birthday. Medications, four pacemakers, and an iron will to live have kept him on this side of the grass.

My husband credits Dad’s longevity to “horseshoes up his ass.” Dad just shrugs whenever asked his secret for beating the odds. “Can’t think of anything worse than being dead,” he says.

Quiet determination to accept and play out the hand he’s dealt best describes my Dad’s steadfast ability to cope and carry on. He suffered badly infected tonsils as a boy wrapped in blankets and his father’s arms in a drafty Model T that dodged dirt road ruts from his tiny Illinois hometown to a hospital miles away. He shot down kamikaze pilots in the deadly dark of night on the anything but peaceful Pacific Ocean during the second world war. He served and protected the people of Davenport wearing a badge, uniform, and gun for 20 years. He cried when we lost my brother, mourned the passing of his two brothers and three sisters, and buried his wife, my mother, after 43 happy years together.

Mom once recalled a birthday of his that I was too young too remember. Not long after I’d mastered the art of walking, I fell up the concrete steps to our front door. Dad was on duty and missed the tears and stitches. He came home to his little girl. Bright smile. Cheek swollen. Puffy lips that managed to form the words and wish him “Happy Birthday, Daddy.”

“I’ll call you again at Christmas, Dad. Or maybe before then. At Thanksgiving.”

“I’ll see you a year from now on my 100th birthday.”

“I’ll be there, Dad. We’ll have a party.”

“I hope so.”

He couldn’t see me smile. I hope he felt the love.

2020 – One Year Later

Dad didn’t live to celebrate his centennial year. He passed away on May 5th, five months and six days short of that milestone birthday.

The party is on hold until the border between my country of birth and country of choice reopens. 

I held his hand the day before I moved from my Iowa hometown to Nova Scotia. On his birthday, in the boxes of memories that moved with me, I found a card I’d given him years before. It reads:

Dear Dad,

When as a child sometimes I’d find alone I could not stand

My fears just seemed to melt away when I held my Daddy’s hand.

I’m older and much wiser now, more of life I understand.

But when I’m afraid, I still draw strength from my Daddy’s hand.

Happy 100th Heavenly Birthday, Dad. I am who I am in so many ways because you loved me and I love you.