Seventeen years ago my father wrote a speech he would read in front of the church just 2 months after losing his youngest child.

He spoke of his father and how my grandfather brought his wife home to care for her when it was apparent she wouldn’t be recovering from the cancer that eventually took her life. I remember Grandma Hannebohn and the odd bed that adjusted Grandpa had set up for her in the room just off the kitchen in their home in Miami, OK. It took up the place of a sofa where I, my cousins, and my uncles and aunts had once spent many hours watching professional wrestling and CMT (country music television for the uninitiated). Grandpa had cable (!) and every so often I’d get to switch it to MTV, back when they still played music videos. But I digress.

Grandpa set up that bed for her and she could look out the sliding glass doors & see the sunshine. Her bleeding heart bushes were right outside. I was always fascinated with the odd little flowers: pink heart shapes with a little white teardrop from the middle. I am forever reminded of my father’s parents when I see them.

Grandpa was as attentive as he could be. I remember making the trek from Missouri to Oklahoma more than usual during that time. During one of these trips my dad and his father got to talking about life and my grandfather turned to him and said, “Dave, the best a man can do is to do what he knows is right.” From his actions I know he did his best to live that way.

Seventeen years ago my father recounted the tall tale of his dad getting out of the Army after the Civil War and being hired as a drover to drive a herd of bees out west.

Seventeen years ago my father told his secret to surviving that most sacred right of parenthood: changing a diaper that is some mish-mash of liquid and solid. (Baby powder in the crook of the elbow for the curious.)

Seventeen years ago my father stood, on his first father’s day without his nine year old daughter and told all the other parents to let their children be what they want to be and to get out of the way to live their own lives. They’ll figure out their own path.

She must have been seven or eight. We were playing cards, peanuts specifically. (If you don’t know the game it’s like playing multiplayer solitaire and that’s really the best explanation I can give you. The point is you each have your own deck.) After a few rounds of Cailin beating us all soundly my mother watched her “shuffle” her deck.

“Hey! Are you just shuffling once?!”

My sister, having no qualms whatsoever about breaking one of the most basic rules of card games, laughed maniacally.

Mom made her reshuffle and from then on we’d watch her like a hawk. The single shuffle is still called a Cailin Shuffle in our household.

Cute but scary. I often think my youngest has her same qualities. Cute, rather charming at times, but when the switch is flipped scary af. I often wonder what path she would have chosen. Whether she would have been rebellious or the straight arrow type. I’m inclined to think the former but in a mischievous way.

He also spoke of the incredible hugs my sister used to give. Now look, there was a certain sibling rivalry between Cailin and I. Having been the only girl for 11 years, I was understandably upset when my position had been toppled. But even I could admit that her hugs, when genuinely given, were a thing to behold so I knew when Dad spoke of her in the afterlife giving his own father one of those full-bodied, enthusiastic, glom-onto-you-until-you-can’t-tell-whose-arms-are-whose hugs he was imagining those arms around him at that moment.

Grandma’s been gone since ’89, Grandpa since ’92, Dad since 2014, and Cailin since 2001.

There are things I wish I had asked; things I wish I had done with them while I still had the chance; things I wish I had told them.

Dad had his own way of saying things that stuck with me. There was a day, I can’t remember where it happened in my timeline, some time between college graduation and divorce a few years later. Dad was driving me home, most likely from church because I didn’t have my own car at the time. I was feeling really down in the dumps, recounting every bad decision I’d ever made. Not sure why but hee turned to me and said, “You know your mom and I are real proud of you.”

That’s stuck with me: the look in his eyes, the sincerity in his tone of voice. I still tear up when I think of it. That’s one of the best things he could have done for me as a parent.

Tell your kids you’re proud of them. Don’t just say I love you, don’t just pat their shoulder. look them in the eye and tell them you’re proud of them. That they’ve done their best.

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