Seventeen years ago, our phone rang in the middle of the night. I didn’t hear it, so John wound up answering it.
He came into the bedroom, “Maria…” I stirred. “Something’s wrong. It’s your mom.”
I looked at the clock it was o’dark thirty – maybe 3 a.m.?
I picked up the phone and all I could hear was my mother wailing, all of these whirling noises.
“Your father died!” she managed to say between her sobs.
I felt myself entering a vacuum where I could no longer hear my mother on the other end of the line. I could only hear that sentence. I could only feel my disbelief.
I was 25 years old at the time. I may have legally been an adult for several years, but I didn’t fully understand the weight of adulthood until that night, until that moment.
I was daddy’s girl.
While it’s been 17 years since he passed, I am still daddy’s girl.
But, I wasn’t the princess-type of daddy’s girl. My dad taught me how to fish (including baiting my own hook and cleaning the guts). He would take me out on construction jobs way before “bring your daughter to work day” was a thing. I can still remember the smell of his work truck: old spice, earthy dirt, metal and grease.
He showed me how to make a proper meatball. In case you are wondering: it’s all about the feel. I’m sure he’s extremely disappointed that I’m a vegetarian now. What sort of decent Italian girl doesn’t eat meat? How on earth could I possibly make a tomato gravy worth eating without pork sausage? Yeah, dad, I hear you…
One day, my dad taught me how to pee in a bucket. He was working on his boat, which was in winter storage in an old, drafty barn, which he was renting. He didn’t want to trudge me all the way to the owner’s house to use the bathroom. So, he put his foot on the 5-gallon bucket, and pushed it toward me.
“Here. Use this.” I was probably 6 or 7 years old. Seemed legit to me. Ah, father-daughter bonding at its best.
Looking back, that day may have just been the first step toward learning to pee on the bike.
One of the things that I love about training is that it helps me to feel close to my dad. No, he wasn’t a triathlete. He wasn’t a swimmer, a cyclist or a runner. But, he was into athletics and sports.
I rowed crew in high school, and my dad just absolutely loved it. He came to almost every single one of my races (I think he might have missed two in four years). He also came to our practices, and helped my coach by filming our training sessions for technique analysis.
He would spend hours talking with me about training, how I felt, how it was going, who the competition would be, and on and on.
While the anniversary of my dad’s death is a date I’d prefer not to commemorate, I am remembering him on this day. Really, I’ve been thinking about him like crazy all week, and yes, there’s been some weeping. Okay, a lot of weeping.
I’m remembering how much he loved crew, and I know he would have enjoyed this triathlon and running adventure, too. I wish he was here for it all.
Training–especially training for a double anvil–brings with it many hours of solitude. I’ve got plenty of time to think about stuff, and it’s not uncommon for me to think of my dad. He was tough on me, and expected much of me. I used to joke that our household was like a military regime (it wasn’t, of course!). While he challenged me, he also believed in me (even if I didn’t always recognize that at the time – damn teenagers!).
Now, when I feel like I might be at my limit, he is the voice I hear that says, “You can do this. You are strong. You’ve got to believe.” I bring him with me to every race, and when things get hard, I talk to him. I close my eyes and think of what he would say. I imagine how excited his face used to get at my crew races. I don’t want to let him down.
My dad taught me many more valuable lessons beyond the basics of peeing in a bucket–although, clearly, that is pure gold.
My dad prepared me for the weight of adulthood–even though I’ve had to spend most of that time without him. He taught me to be strong, to stay determined, and to be committed to my goals.
He’ll be the voice in my head, in just 3 weeks time, when I compete in the Florida Double Anvil for the second time. And, when I cross that finish line, I know I’ll feel close to him again.