Running a marathon was a journey for me in many ways. Something came up a lot when I was training, and soon after the marathon was finally run.
I've talked about my dad some on this website, and most of the back story can be filled in by this post. In short, six years ago on July 6, 2006, my dad died. He was 53. I hadn't seen him in four years. He broke up our family. He broke my heart. He died a stupid death.
What's hard about my dad is that he had a lot of good qualities … in many ways he was an amazing person. I had a really great childhood; a charmed one, even. My dad worked hard and made good money. When he was home he was fun, active, loving, and supportive. He was at my games and races. He ate dinner with us at the table. He made my friends laugh. He liked to be outside. He made up funny nicknames for me and my sister and did weird dances and sang goofy made-up songs. I remember what it felt like when he put his arm around my shoulders to embrace me. I remember him hugging my mother and holding her hand. I have so many good memories.
He and I were a lot alike: we were gregarious people when out in a crowd but at home we could be introverts. When we got it in our minds to do something, we did it. He was quick-witted and funny, he was a fast learner. He had a dark side. He silently worried at things and I do that too. It has a way of eating a person up inside, that cynical worrywart tendency and the need to keep it down. He got frustrated sometimes when things weren't perfect. I see those things in myself too sometimes.
I have to remind myself a lot that I'm not him. I'm a different person. And even though I'm like him in ways – good and bad – I'm also like myself in ways he wasn't.
Training for a marathon brings him to mind a lot because, well, he did it first. I think my Dad's first marathon was in 1998, my first year in college. He ran the Chicago Marathon. My sister and mom and I and the guy I was dating at the time all went to the city to cheer him on. We had funny signs (I think mine said "Beat Oprah!" because she ran the race that year), and we managed to track him down at one point on the course and again at the finish. My sister and I hopped the barricades and finished the race with him, screaming the entire time. At the finish we got on the local news, each of us under one of Dad's arms, him telling the reporter that he was so glad he had his girls there with him. I have that tape around here somewhere. I don't know if I could watch it without falling apart.
After that race he ran again the next year, and the next. Among my things I have race photos tucked away. I have thought about digging them out to see what his official times were. But I haven't had the courage yet.
My father's memory haunts me as I run because he would have loved this. These would have been – I am sure, if our lives had taken a different turn – the best years of his life. Sometimes when I think about what it would have been like for him to have Sydney and Elijah in his life I get so angry at him. He is missing this! He is missing out on his amazing grandchildren! And they are missing out on him! Sydney is old enough that she's asked me a few times about my own daddy. And where is he? And why did he die? And I explain it to her as honestly as I can. Recently she told John's father the whole story about how her mommy's daddy died before she was born. I had to swallow the very large lump in my throat. I hate that it's her truth. She will never know him. And he will never know her or her brother.
I would have liked to train with my dad. I would have liked to run a marathon with him. It seems unfair that out of all the members of my little family, I am the only one that knew him … and even then I didn't really know him because of all the secrets and lies. John only met him twice. I have to think hard and then ask people like John's parents if they ever even met him (John's mother did once, briefly).
It occurred to me the other day that one day – disaster nonwithstanding – I will probably be older than my father ever was. I'm 32 now, he lived to 53, it's only a little over 20 years away. I will see a lot in the next two decades. My children will grow up. I will forget my father a little more with each year that passes. I hope I don't forget how it felt to have his arm around my shoulders. It's been ten years since I felt that and I can still remember. I can still remember the lines around his eyes and his funny-shaped feet. I can still remember what he looked like when he laughed. How would he have lived if he'd known at 32 that he only had 21 years left?
God, I loved him. He was a mess, but he was my dad. I don't hate him anymore, but I still hate what he did. I forgave him a long time ago but it still really hurts when I think about what we're missing now, how unnecessary it all was.
I signed up to run the Chicago Marathon this coming October. When I sent in the paperwork last week it hit me hard, out of the blue, the missing him. I'm sure every step I take on that course I will think about him. I will probably miss him every day for the rest of my life.
I hope he has found some peace.