A love letter to my Dad

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Today marks seventeen years since an incredible man left us. You probably didn’t know him but if you know me, you’ve see more than glimpses. I always capitalize the D in Dad when I write about him. In his short 53 years on earth, he left profound lessons in love, work, and selfhood.

John W. Linebarger

John W. Linebarger, Sr. holding his daughter, Laura in 1974.

In a generation that favored stoicism and prescribed rules of order, my Dad didn’t stand out in the ways you’d expect.  He was quietly the glue that bonds people together. Until his mother died in 1991, he called her every Friday to stay in touch.  The youngest and most fair complected of four, he also glued us to his siblings, Aunt Su Su, Uncle Dick (whom he shares a mirror image, only in olive), and Aunt Ann.  Connected to his younger sister by my middle name, I was always told the extra “e” in my Anne was an acknowledgement that I’d be different. 

Parental Influence

After a diversity training at work, he dropped some lesbian history on the 16 year old me.   He was my first introduction to the pink triangles that symbolize gay solidarity. Years later, after I was out, he sent me NASCAR bumper stickers from a race he’d attended.  The stickers read, POWER OF PRIDE, and his cheeky note said, “How funny that NASCAR is promoting the gays.” He once quipped, “I like your rainbow lifestyle,” and I assured him no man would ever replace him.

About ten months prior to his unexpected death, I started a philosophical journey.  He was sick for about four years with an unknown ailment. A part of me must have known he was dying but it’s not something you expect at 27.  I had decided to research everything I could about what happens after death. The internet in its infancy, I read fiction books and wrote long journey entries.  One book, What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson was brutal and beautiful.  You may have seen the movie with the same moniker, released with Robin Williams as the star in 1998.  

As is often the case, the book was better but the movie did do it justice.  This book, along with Daniel Quinn’s A Newcomer’s Guide to the Afterlife and later, Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God, Book 1 formed the basis of my spiritual beliefs.  Throw in some Cherokee about ancestors and that’s me in a nutshell.  

Daddy Daughter Bond

Although….changed, my relationship with my Dad continues to this day.  In the copious grief books I consulted, key elements stood out and comforted me.  More of what I learned is in the essay, Sorry My Dad is Dead.  Absorbing specific traits from him, I bring him forth in this world.  Calling beloved people in my life,“bud” Passed on from his mother whom I knew as“Mimi” is a private conveyance of love through three squeezes.  I ask for and see signs of his presence, most recently the somewhat viral video of two ladies and a cardinal.  When he comes to me in dreams, I always light up telling him, “Hey!!!!  I haven’t seen you in forever!” Since I inevitably wake up crying, I assume he limits these visits in his care of me.

Influenced by my wife, an orphan who’s lost both her parents, the last few years have lead me down a different path.  Today used to mark a national day of mourning, grief evidenced and emanating from the cells in my body. I would think it was obvious I’d lost an important person, that my world had stopped, pivoted.  These days, I try hard to round him out. He wasn’t the sum of his dying days – the fatigue, edema, and weight loss. He was goofy and silly. A scrapper moving up through the engineering ranks, he achieved his career dream of becoming CTO – Chief Technical Officer – in cable tv world.  He was also morose during the winter holidays – something I’ve recently come to understand with more depth. After losing his architectural fortune in the 1930’s market crash, his father became an alcoholic and died when my Dad was a teen. My Dad recalled many scarce Christmases, a pair of socks his only gift.

Lessons and Mottos

One lesson I’ve reframed I call the it-should-be-obvious.  Fluffing the plume of his feathery confidence, he believed his abilities were evident just by existing.  All you had to do was meet him and you’d sense his competence. Passing this message to me, he instilled the notation that others will naturally understand my awesomeness.  One one hand, what a powerful gift – I am valuable just by existing. On the other, I’ve found that it’s sometimes necessary to actually tell people stuff instead of waiting around for them to notice.

Another motto, the-cream-always-rises-to-the-top, was a lesson in integrity.  “You’re the cream, Laura,” he’d proclaim. Gossip, office games, and getting caught in meaningless minutia were only a few of the activities that lowered a person.  From this, I incorporated the ideal that, relying on my own gold standards of performance, I must impress myself first.

Dead Parents Club

I know death tends to idealize a person but I don’t care.  I’m comforted by the lasting impression of him. He and my Mother created the foundation of me.  Since nothing is truly verifiable, I create my own version of sanity. Two things can be true at once; objective reality and what I’ve made of it.  

People who lose a primary caregiver, no matter the age, join the Dead Parents Club.  It can be a vast wasteland of loss or a close knit community of understanding. Pulled towards others in exclusive clubs like this, I get a sense of gravity from each member.  Pain and loss, in all its forms, realigns priorities. When you’ve been through the fire, you’re forged in steel.

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