It’s been three years since my dad died, and so much has changed since that day. I’ve changed so much since that day, and I wish my dad was here to see that. Yet I’m also asking myself, would I have changed this much were he still alive? In many ways his death was a catalyst for me, because death, at long last, made him human to me. And I will always regret that it took his death to finally see his life. Yet maybe that’s what death is there for.

Fear of a death is a universal fear, every creature on earth shares it and will seek to escape death at any cost. Death is certain and arbitrary. There is no appeals process, it doesn’t discriminate, and can happen at any time for any number of reasons. Death is the great equalizer, rich or poor, saint or demon, it doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter who you were, or what you’ve done, when death comes for you. There is no negotiation.

I hated my father for a long time, and only years after his death am I realizing it was because I’d written him as the villain in my story. I blamed him for all my problems. I wouldn’t be so depressed if he’d been happier; I would have been more active if he hadn’t been so tired and played with me; I would have gone to college had he not spent my college fund paying the bills. If he hadn’t hated himself so much, I wouldn’t have grown up hating myself so much. My dad was larger-than-life to me, not in the good way unfortunately, but he wasn’t a real person to me.

Death made him real. Not all at once, in fact the first few months after he died, he became even less human. I was haunted by dreams of his for months on end, nightmares, flashes of memories, and sometimes, just an overwhelming sense of emptiness would wake me up in the middle of the night. He became a ghost for me. Eventually though, even the ghost faded, and death began its slow, methodical, but ultimately beautiful work.

I began to forget. My projections, assumptions, and judgments about who my father was began to fade away. I remember thinking them still, but the emotional core of those memories is gone. When I think about all our petty arguments, I no longer feel anger or hatred, most of the time I laugh now at how absurd it was that I let it grow so out of proportion. I realize now, he wasn’t the villain in my story, and he wasn’t the hero. He was just a man. And we were more alike than we were different.

I literally followed in his footsteps when I went to Berlin.

Death is a terrifying prospect, and it still scares me, but not as much as it once did, because I now see the beauty of it. It reminds us of what’s important, the entropy of time slowly washes away all the junk that gets in the way of realizing we love each other. I never told my father I loved him when he was alive, aside from whispering it to him moments before he died. I like to think he heard me.

Death also reminded me that, one day, I’d be where my dad is, and that day might be here sooner than I’d like. It brought my life into focus for the first time, I couldn’t keep doing what I’d been doing.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer I was out of work, a hundred-pounds overweight, and so depressed I was constantly thinking of suicide. That didn’t change overnight, but slowly and surely, it’s been changing. I began going to ballroom dance classes, I started going to a Dungeons and Dragons group, I found a full-time job finally. The full time job let me pursue my passions and I began dancing more frequently. I took an amazing trip to Europe with my best friend. When I returned I began to go to an amazing personal trainer who began helping me get in shape. Recently I went on an amazing emotional journey, discovering a lot about myself as well as building a larger support system for myself.

I even went on a date for the first time in 3 years, and it went badly, ending after 30 minutes and never hearing from the girl again. And I was sad for a few days, which wasn’t fun, but it also didn’t send me into a downward tailspin that left me depressed for months which would have happened a few years ago. The most important part though, is that I actually put myself out there again. That I was able to look at my shadow of “you’re a big, ugly, creepy loser, no one is going to want you” and actually ask someone out.

My life isn’t perfect, and it never will be. As grateful as I am to have a fulltime job, it doesn’t pay nearly enough considering the huge emotional drain it represents. A recent problem with my car has meant I’m living paycheck to paycheck. Due to that I wasn’t able to renew my WordPress membership, which is why this blog’s appearance has suddenly gone down the crapper. Yet I’m also coping with those challenges far better than I would have before. I’m looking for a new job, I’ll have the care problem paid off in a year, and eventually I will get the funds to rebuild this website. I’m making progress.

My work of self-improvement isn’t complete. It will never be complete, it will be a constant, never-ending task to make myself a better person. Yet the work has begun, and it’s largely due to my father dying.

As my mom told me recently, my dad wouldn’t recognize who I am today. I’m sad he’s not here to see it, but I want to honor my father, because without him I wouldn’t be here.

Thank you dad, for always encouraging my writing. . Thanks for always being in my corner, even when I didn’t realize you were. My elementary school principal recently told me how you took him aside on my first day of school, and asked him to take good care of me. When I was tortured by a dentist, it wasn’t until your funeral that someone told me how angry that had made you, and I’d somehow convinced myself you didn’t care. Thanks for trying your best, because I know you did.

And I forgive you for all the mean, hateful things you said to me, and I hope you forgive me for doing the same thing. I wish we could have said these things to each other in person, I wish we could have had a better relationship while you were still alive.

I honor you, Dad, for being the best person you could be. You weren’t perfect, but you also weren’t the monster I’d made you out to be. You were a good man who tried his hardest.

I love you, Dad. I miss you.

Written by John Stevenson

I'm a freelance writer based out of Seattle, Washington.

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