Thursday, November 24, 2016

The things I would tell him.

Living far from my father since I was ten, I learned to cherish our good conversations and precious quality time. Those days when he lost track of time and became immersed in the topic. When we dug deeper into our relationship, sorted out painful memories from the past or just thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. The conversations over a meal at Russ' or Arnie's grew in depth as I aged and our relationship shifted from mandatory to intentional. Shared meals evolved from a strict one hour time frame to slow afternoons where we sat for hours and grudgingly said goodbye when other commitments pressed upon us. While living in the USA, every Saturday afternoon he would call. Whether we spoke for ten minutes or an hour was largely dependent on his energy and the quantity of family news to communicate. At times this arrangement was convenient due to my own time constraints, yet in other seasons it was hurtful when I sought his worthy opinion or a listening ear. I suppose you could say he was human and communicated accordingly. When I lived in Zambia, he was difficult to reach online,  but by the time I found myself in Morocco, he was one of my most consistent skype partners. Providing wonderful insight into the Muslim world, we explored the way religions interact with culture. He delighted in my daily joys and listened after particularly soul-crushing experiences. After a full year of talking about Morocco, he made the effort to visit my small town and walked a few miles in my shoes. That trip will forever be one of my most cherished memories of my father.  

After his illness and death in 2015, the most acute loss has been that no one calls on Saturday afternoons. That the world around me continues, but I've lost one of my favorite people to reflect upon it with. That in all things good and bad, I still wait for his well reasoned response and am left wondering, 'what would my dad think?' 

A woman well versed in loss once told me that when I miss him, I should still try to communicate. Whether it's outloud, in a quiet prayer or in my writing, I can present my thoughts and see if I receive an answer. Although the practice often feels strange, it's also comforting and cathartic. During the course of my travels this fall, there have been countless occasions when I've sent my thoughts to him, hoping that someone is listening. Here are a few of the things I'd tell him.

If my dad was enjoying his morning cup of coffee, I'd tell him that I finally understand what he loved about the depths of the ocean. The initial fear and excitement of entering the water and the faith that you'll be able to breathe as you descend meter after meter. That the Indonesian waters are rich with fusiliers, clown fish, eels, tiny mantis shrimp and sea cucumbers. That I can barely wrap my head around the vibrant colors of the coral and the grace of the sea turtles. I'd ask him about his research in Oregon and what drew him to the ocean. We'd talk about how different our lives would have been if he'd stayed in marine biology. Maybe we'd even plan a diving trip together. I think he would have liked that. 

If we were sharing coconut ice cream after some spicy pad thai, I'd tell him about how much I loved spending time in another Muslim country. How the people of Indonesia were incredibly kind, accepting and open and how it was fascinating to see how the world's largest Muslim country operates. How I'd love to live there and explore the islands for years. I'd ask him about the differences between the primary forms of Buddhism in Asia. How frustrated I was that women can't be monks and that I couldn't enter certain temples because I was considered 'unclean.' How those gender norms still exist in Christianity and how damaging it is for women. 

If he were smoking a cigar and sipping a glass of whiskey, I'd tell him about my shock that our country has turned to bigotry and xenophobia. That I cried when I heard about the results of the election and couldn't believe that we elected a man without wisdom or courage. That I fear for the safety of my friends who are black, Muslim, queer, and immigrants. That I fear that my reproductive rights are in question and that we've elected a man who is openly misogynistic. That I feel attacked for being a feminist. That I thought the church stood for the widow, the orphan and the alien rather than for power. That I don't recognize our country and am fearful of the darkness on our doorstep and on the horizon. 

If we were walking on the beach together,  I'd tell him that I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had to travel, but would have traded a few more years with him for all the sunsets in Myanmar. That I'm thankful he gave me an education and encouraged me to think critically about the world around me. That I can't wait to start grad school and it wouldn't be possible without him. That he taught me to love the outsider and advocate for justice and that I plan on continuing that work after school. That even though the world feels scary, he taught me to stand firm and fight for the rights of the disenfranchised. That I miss him, but know that he's with me through the darkness and the light. 


  1. Happy Thanksgiving Lady V. Grateful for you and the things you share, grateful your dad helped raise up such a kind and wonderful person

  2. Love you, Kyla. Sabrina and I send you hugs across the ocean! This was a very well-written post, and I love that you had such a special relationship with our dad.