A Pat On The Head

Life’s treasures are held in the simplest moments, the everyday routines of uncomplicated love. I miss those expressions of love from my Dad the most, and I’d give anything to find those treasures again, because there is indescribable joy wrapped up in those moments.

My Dad was not a man driven by routine—but there was one routine that drove his mornings, and it’s a routine that I dearly, deeply miss.

Out of necessity, my Dad was mostly an early riser on work days. Working as a maintenance technician in a few different steel plants throughout his career, Dad was always required to get up and get going at often odd hours of the day. If he found himself working a first shift job (which he always appreciated), he was often at work by 7, leaving the house around 6:30 or so. During those horrible second or third shift years, he found himself sleeping and rising at very odd hours. As a maintenance technician, however, the hours weren’t always so predictable. Machines often choose to break at the worst time of the day or night, and there were many times when Dad’s cell phone would ring at 2 or 3 in the morning, beckoning him to work for a long shift to make a repair. I really hated the moments when Dad’s phone would ring shortly after he had gone to bed. I knew how tired he must’ve been, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to get a phone call only fifteen minutes into your slumber that you have to come into work.

Those odd hours often put us on opposite sleep schedules. Whether he was on day shift or night shift, it always seemed that he would have to rise and shine at a time when I was sound asleep. If he went in during the morning hours, it was too early for me to get up; and if he worked a third shift, his departure usually occurred long after my bedtime. While Dad was ready to work, I was already asleep—or at least he thought I was.

I was a fairly light sleeper as a child, and there were occasions when my Dad’s relatively simple and rapid pre-work routine would disrupt my sweet dreams. It didn’t take Dad long to get ready, as he would always lay out the familiar navy coveralls with his stitched name that he wore the night before. He would dress, brush his teeth, rub his hand across the now shiny head where his thick hair used to be, eat a small breakfast, grab his keys, and lumber out the door. It was a rather simple routine that reflected the life of a beautifully simple man.

But before he left the house, there was always one part of his routine that was my absolute favorite. Every morning, after he was dressed and right before he left to get into his truck, Dad would quietly make his way into my room. Never turning on the light, Dad would delicately tread across my royal blue carpet, attempting to dodge any stray toys I might have left out from the night before. Finding my bed, Dad would reach down, rub my hair from side to side, and quietly whisper “Seeya, bub.”

Even though I was a light sleeper, I’m sure there were many days in which Dad said goodbye to me this way that I didn’t notice. But some mornings, if he had made a little extra noise downstairs in our kitchen, or maybe dropped something on the floor in the bathroom down the hall, I was awake for the daily hair tussling, even if still dozing in and out. Some mornings, I would return the greeting with a simple “Seeya, Daddy” or “Bye Dad” just to let him know that I loved him and appreciated him saying goodbye to me. But other mornings, being the only little boy who loved attention from his parents, I would close my eyes, pretend I was asleep, and let Dad go on with his routine without letting him know I knew it was happening. There was something pleasant about pretending to be asleep, because it showed me that Dad wasn’t doing this for my approval—he was truly saying “Seeya, bub” to me every morning because he loved me, whether I was able to reciprocate that love or not.

I craved this greeting, even if I didn’t know how much I craved it at the time. On the mornings that I was awake, I would often lay calmly in my bed and wait for it to happen, knowing Dad would leave the house about 25 minutes before his shift was to begin. As a kid, the morning minutes felt like an eternity. But finally, like I knew he would, Dad always made sure he came to say goodbye to me. And it was so special, and so full of love. I used to jokingly think he only came in to rub his hand through my hair because his own hair had disappeared so many years before, but I knew better. It had nothing to do with my healthy head of hair, but everything to do with his overflowing heart.

And then, one day, it didn’t happen.

Every now and then, we all slip from our routines. We forget to floss one morning, or we forget to take a multi-vitamin. We forget to grab our lunchbox, or we leave the garage door open. It happens to the best of us. But there was one day that Dad faltered in his routine that I never let him live down. And to my knowledge, he never did it again after that.

Around the time I started high school, Dad’s morning routine had to be slightly adjusted when we welcomed our new dog into the household. Willow was an Airedale Terrier given to us by our neighbors. They were moving to a condominium in Florida, and knew a nearly 90-pound pooch wouldn’t be happy cooped up in a crowded space. So as much as it broke their hearts to leave their dog behind, it made ours soar because we were able to have a new family member.

Willow brought a lot of joy to our house. She was a lively dog—curious and intelligent, loving but mischievous. I called her “Honey Bear” and she answered to that nickname just as much as her actual name. Oftentimes, I was the first one home each day to greet her after an afternoon of lonely solitude. As I would go to unlock the door, I’d jiggle the handle and wait for a response. Willow, wagging uncontrollably on the other side of the door, would bang her nose into the handle so it would jiggle back on the other side. The clunk-clunk of that golden handle still plays in my mind anytime I open the front door, even though she hasn’t jiggled back for many years. I loved that dog.

But she loved my Dad more. No question about it. I’m almost positive the word “slobbering love affair” was created after watching how the two of them loved one another. Yes, I was the one who let Willow outside after a long, boring day inside the house. Yes, I was the one who fed her every night around 5 ‘o clock, trying not to gag as I dumped horrible, reeking canned dog food into her bowl. She loved me well-enough for those things, but when my Dad came home, it was like I never even existed.

My Mom and I would always comment about how horrible it was to not be the favorite of your family pet. No matter how much we tried to hide it, it hurt deep down when my Dad would get home, because Willow wanted nothing to do with us. Like I often did as a child, Willow would run to the door, wagging more than she ever did with me, jiggling the door knob so viciously that I thought her wet dog nose would be permanently damaged. Dad would throw open the door and go crazy petting her, laying down on the floor so Willow could place her two paws right above my Dad’s shoulder. Then, in something I’ve rarely seen a dog do, she would bend down, nuzzle her long snout underneath his neck, and lay there in her own version of a doggy hug. She showed him such wonderful affection, and he never failed to give it right back.

For the rest of any evening after Dad had arrived home, Willow’s entire attention was focused solely on my Dad. If he moved, she moved with him. If he laid down, so did she. If he went into the restroom, she waited patiently outside the door. And if he went into the garage or outside, there was a form of doggy depression that would set over her entire body. I had never seen a dog worship its owner the way she did. Remember—I was the one who fed her!

My Dad loved to joke that Willow was the favorite child. And one morning, I seriously questioned if he was joking. Willow’s bed was positioned right outside my door and right in front of my parents’ bedroom. A watchdog at heart, it was a perfect watch tower. She could keep an eye on my Mom and me, but most importantly, she could be alerted the second my Dad would wake up in the morning.

In most cases, no matter how early his alarm clock sounded, Willow would follow my Dad around. She became a part of his morning routine. He would let her outside while he ate a small breakfast in the kitchen, and she would come bounding in the house shortly after, often the recipient of his leftovers. Eventually, as he continued to ready himself for the day, Willow would make her way back to her bed, still watching my Dad’s every move.

When Willow joined the family and became my four-legged, Father-adoring sister, she also got a “head pat” in the morning before Dad left for work. He would crouch over her as she lay on her bed in the hallway, rub her head a few times, and say “Bye, pretty girl” or “Bye, honey” or “Bye, favorite child” (okay, that last one was probably made up). Then, as he’d always done, he would make his way into my room, toss my hair around, and give me the familiar “Seeya, bub.”

I loved this routine because it was steady, reliable, predictable.

Until the day it wasn’t, that is.

On the morning in question, Dad’s routine was a little louder than it had been normally. I think the favorite child got distracted by a squirrel in the backyard a few minutes earlier, waking me from deep sleep before I left for school. I heard Dad continuing his routine downstairs as I feigned sleep in my upstairs bedroom. I heard the familiar clang-clang of dishes as he pulled a cereal bowl out of our jam-packed kitchen cabinets. I heard the shoosh-shoosh-shoosh-shoosh of his toothbrushing in the bathroom down the hall. I heard the rustling of denim as he pulled on his coveralls, and the jingle-jangle of keys as he neared the end of his morning rituals. All the while, I laid in my bed, eyes closed but fully conscious, pretending I heard none of his early-morning antics and eagerly waiting for his visit.

The finale was coming—the familiar Head Rubbing of the Children ceremony where the village chief blessed his offspring (human and canine alike). Eyes still closed but mind wide awake, I heard the floorboards creek as Dad crouched down to pet Willow’s head and bid her adieu. Then, pretending to be asleep with the acumen of a seasoned actor, I heard a noise from the routine that was unfamiliar, out of place, and in the wrong sequence. It was the thud/creak, thud/creak, thud/creak, thud/creak of Dad going down the stairs. My eyes flew open and I stared at the red ambient glow of the alarm clock in horror.

“Wait a second!” my mind screamed. “Where’s my hair tousle? Where’s my ‘Seeya, bub’? Where’s my morning goodbye?” I couldn’t go back to sleep! For the first time that I had ever noticed, Dad had forgotten about his only son, and his only child with opposable thumbs at that! I was starting to think this whole favorite child thing might be more than a joke…

I obsessed over it at school, thinking of ways I could get back at him. After getting home from school that day, I stewed a little bit, thinking of how I would bring up this egregious treason with my Dad when the workday concluded. “Stewing” might be a bit of an exaggeration, as I wasn’t really mad. But my Dad and I had playfully teased each other for years about Willow being the preferred child, and I knew that I would have the upper hand for quite some time with this story.

Dad and I loved picking on one another, and this opportunity was too perfect to pass up!

In the midst of my scheming that evening, I heard the familiar click-click-creeeek of the front door. All Willow had to do was hear the first click, and she was off. Her ears would perk up, her head would snap forward, and suddenly she would explode from whatever resting position she had been in, lunge up the stairs, and attack my Dad at the front door. I followed her this time, and stood right around the corner from our front door. I heard him loving all over Willow. “Hi puppy! Are you excited to see me? Yeah? Are you excited to see me? Oh that’s a good girl! Goooooood girl!”

He came around the corner, with Willow tagging along at his feet, and when he saw me he instinctively said “Hey, bub” as he continued to roll through his after-work rituals—sitting his keys on the bench, unlacing his steel-toed work boots, emptying his pockets, and of course, continuing his love fest with Willow.

“Oh, you’ve got time to say that now, do you?” I said with feigned anger. My arms were crossed as I stared at him, doing everything I could not to break character. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t let my face show it.

“Do what?” he said, realizing it wasn’t our typical exchange.

“You heard me” I said, with the severity of a Wild West standoff.

“What are you talking about, boy?”

“You forget to do anything this morning before you left for work?”

“Shampoo my hair?” he said with a smile. I had to admit, this was a solid comeback. He had gone bald at least ten years before.

“Don’t try to be cute. You know what you did.” I was playing my part really, really well.

“I honestly don’t,” he said, “but it must have been pretty bad.”

I turned up the heat. “You honestly don’t remember forgetting to do anything this morning?”

“No! What are you talking about?” I could tell he was starting to get really confused. I had him right where I wanted him. Vengeance was mine, and it was going to be sweet. And unrelenting.

“Well you remembered to tell some of us goodbye, but that must be reserved for favorite children only.”

He was starting to connect the dots, but I could tell the moment of realization was still a few steps away. His mouth was agape, and he just stared at me.

“This morning, I’m laying in my bed as you’re getting ready for work. You came down the hallway, and told Willow goodbye, and patted her head, and probably kissed her, maybe even on the mouth because you two are sick like that. And then, while the least favorite child is waiting patiently in his bed for a little goodbye, you just take off down the hallway like I didn’t even exist. You said goodbye to the dog and not me!” Boom.

He threw his shiny head back and laughed hysterically. When Dad was really amused, he got a higher pitch to his laugh. It was something I had to work hard to earn—only the funniest of jokes would bring out the high-pitch laugh, and I had just done it in record time. I couldn’t help but crack a smile, while still continuing in my role as the offended and overlooked child.

“Are you sure I didn’t say goodbye? I thought you were asleep!” he said, trying to outrun his forgetfulness.

“Oh, so now you want to try and deny your treason? I can’t believe this!” I threw my hands into the air in an exasperated fashion and stormed into the kitchen while his laughter still filled our living room. “You’re not even trying to deny that she’s your favorite! You’re just trying to get off the hook! Not this time, buddy boy. I’m gonna remember this for a long, long time. The first chance I get, you’re going in one of those bad nursing homes. I’m never letting you live this down.”

“Well, she is a lot cuter than you are” he said, and I couldn’t help but laugh back.

It became a recurring joke between Dad and I, the infamous day when he patted the pet and circumvented the son. I even started telling the story at big family events to try and embarrass him, and the high-pitched laugh never dissipated. He laughed with the same intensity each and every time. It was one of my absolute favorite moments, even if there was a kernel of envy rooted deep within me that was jealous of my “baby sister.”

The next morning, Dad returned to my room with a “Seeya, bub” and an added chuckle, and I made it a point to be awake for that one. I acted as if I was asleep, but right after Dad offered his familiar farewell, I kept my eyes closed and grumbled under my breath “Glad to see you remembered I exist today.” He laughed again, rubbed my hair with a little more vigor than usual, and left my room. As long as I lived in their house, which was longer than most kids, Dad never forgot to come say goodbye to me in the morning. And as difficult as it was for me to wake up early, I loved hearing him call me “Bub” and say goodbye to me because I knew it was love in its purest form.

For years, this became a running joke in the Bradshaw home. I never let Dad live down the fact that he had said goodbye to the dog and not me on that morning, even though he never failed again. We would still joke about it and laugh together thinking about that morning, and I’m glad that we found humor in that moment. We only found humor in it, however, because I never, ever questioned how much my Dad loved me.

As life moves on and tragedies, like my Dad’s death, inevitably happen, you start to appreciate all of the little things you took for granted in life. The simple dinners. The afternoon truck rides. The arguments over television shows. The moments of laughter. The hugs. The head pats. The morning goodbyes. At the time, these things don’t seem as valuable; but as life changes and loss occurs, you realize that life’s true treasures lie in those very moments, those simple interactions.

I desperately miss those morning goodbyes. I think about how impatient I was as an adolescent. I think about all the times that I wished life would move faster. I wanted the wheel to turn faster towards graduation, and then another graduation, and the next job, and the next fun moment; and in those moments, I see now that I was so often looking forward to the “next” moment instead of appreciating the “now” moments for what they were. I’m trying to learn from my Dad’s death, and I’m trying to find ways to give those little expressions of love to others because I know how much they mean—and how much I miss them once they’re gone. I’ll spend a lot more time cherishing the treasures wrapped up in those everyday expressions of love, all the while wishing for just another pat on the head and a “Seeya, Bub” from the man who continues to teach me about life, even in his death.

Sitting in Dad's Lap with SB LogoDad, I know you were a busy man, but it meant so much to me that you would come into my room each and every morning to say goodbye before you went off to work. I don’t know if I told you at the time, but I look back on those moments and realize how lucky I was to be able to start each and every morning knowing that I was loved. I’m so glad that we can laugh about the time that you forgot about me (I’m going to tease you about this on the other side, too), but more importantly I’m glad that the absence of a morning goodbye wasn’t routine for you. Dad, your life routines were based in love for other people. Your interactions with those around you were always rooted in care, grace, and a desire to let people know how you felt about them. I know that I don’t always live this lesson out, Dad, and I’m thankful that I have your life and plenty of those little moments to continue teaching me how to live in love with others. Dad, I pray that you never stop teaching me through your example. I pray that your life is a beacon to me and the multitude of people who knew you, and I hope that we never forget the ways in which you showed love to others. More importantly, I pray that we have a greeting rooted in love when Eternity calls, because I’ve missed you so very much. Thank you, Dad, for living a life led by love. Until I can get another pat on the head (after Willow, of course), seeya Bub.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)

Lucy (Part 1)

“Dad, I told you. I don’t want another dog!”

Dad gave me a mocking smile and placed his hands on his hips to feign being an adolescent know-it-all. “Well guess what? We’re getting one anyway!”

Dad continued to smile, and I stomped out of the room with righteous indignation. It was the opposite image of what a grateful son who’s getting a new puppy should look like—but I played that part really well. And leave it to my Dad to do the thing I didn’t want—which ended up being the completely right thing to do.


My family has always been a dog family, mainly because my Dad was always a dog person. Don’t get me wrong—we all loved dogs; but Dad had a special connection with the canine world. Throughout our family life, we’ve always had dogs.

In fact, my parents got our first puppy, a dog named Muffin, before I was even born. Some of my earliest baby photos show Muffin trying to climb into my baby carrier to get a sniff of her new housemate. I don’t even remember what breed Muffin was, but she was one of the kindest and gentlest dogs I’ve ever met.

Muffin was definitely Dad’s dog. She loved him more than she loved any of us, and she would follow him around throughout the backyard any time he was home, always traipsing within a few steps of him everywhere he went. And Dad loved Muffin, and he always tried to make her feel special. Dad used his carpentry talent to build Muffin a beautiful, sturdy doghouse in our backyard—which I saw her use only a handful of times throughout her long life as the inaugural pup of the Bradshaw family. Muffin loved Dad, but if it was even possible, I think Dad loved her more.

Even though I am a dog person, I must admit that Muffin and I never had an extremely close connection. Maybe it was a function of my age and youth, and my failure to recognize any other needs outside of my own. Or maybe she didn’t like me because I was the human baby that knocked her off the pedestal of parental adoration. Muffin wasn’t an extremely active dog, which probably contributed to our lack of connection. She didn’t fetch or run, and all the dogs I saw on TV fetched and ran, so I was jealous. I still have great memories of Muffin, like seeing her pass our family room windows in the well-worn path that she repeated thousands of times in our backyard. Or the moments when I would entice her into the house on cold winter days using miniature Reese Cups (who knew chocolate was bad for dogs?!).

Muffin lived for an impressive 16 years (maybe that whole dog/chocolate thing is a myth…), and when I was in 8th grade, my parents had to face the difficult decision of having Muffin put to rest. Her hearing had completely disappeared, and a large tumor on her leg made it painful to walk and maneuver around. I can only imagine how hard it was for my parents to make this decision. Muffin had been their first real “child” until my arrival disrupted the family two years later. She was their very first dog as a married couple. What an emotional loss it must have been to know that she was approaching the end of her life.

On the day she would be put to rest, I remember my Mom signing me out of school early so I could come see her one last time and say my goodbyes. When I got home, the scene that I witnessed is one that is still burned into my memory bank. I saw my Dad laying on the floor next to poor Muffin, tired and beleaguered, gently stroking her coat as the occasional tear rolled down his weathered cheek. Dad had decided to give Muffin the most perfect dog day she could ever have. Having taken an entire day from work (a rarity in Dad’s life), he had cooked her breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast and hand fed it to her from a plate in our family room. Dad had spent the entire day petting Muffin and combing her coat, telling her how much he loved her. Midway through the day, he grilled her a steak and fed it to her bite by bite. They had eaten snacks throughout the day and spent time resting nearby one another. My Dad wanted to be there next to her to let her know that he was there until the very end, in good times and in difficult times.

I said my goodbyes to Muffin and even told her how much I enjoyed giving her all those Reese Cups when my parents weren’t looking. But my memories of that day aren’t nearly as much about my own pain. Instead, I vividly remember seeing my Dad suffering more than I had ever seen him suffer before.

Dad was rarely helpless in his life, but in this moment I saw how much it pained him to know that there was truly nothing he could do to help. Dad just laid next to Muffin, staring at her and slowly patting her head. My Dad didn’t cry very often, which made it even more difficult to see tear after tear drip from his eye without him ever making a sound. I could tell that all of the pain about Muffin’s death was bottling up inside of him, and it broke my heart to see how affected he was about having to put Muffin to rest.

As the time for the veterinarian appointment approached, Dad eventually collected sweet Muffin in his arms. He put her in the front seat of the truck, and drove off down the street. The car vanished in the distance, and Mom and I cried back at the house, but I often wondered what that last ride was like. I wonder what Dad said to Muffin.

A few hours later, Dad returned home with Muffin’s lifeless body. For the next few hours and deep into the night, Dad toiled away digging a proper grave in one of our backyard gardens. In a way, I think that my Dad doing physical labor was his way of grieving, so Mom and I tried not to disturb him as he labored deep into the night. From an upstairs window, Mom and I watched Dad dig with work lights shining over his shoulders, and we talked about how sad he must have been. Long after the sun had set, Dad had buried his pup and said goodbye to the dog he loved so much. And I wondered if we would ever have another dog again after watching how hard it had been on him.

I don’t remember how soon it was after losing Muffin, but something very unusual had happened. Our neighbors, Jim and Deena, had recently approached us about their beautiful puppy—an Airedale terrier named Willow. Willow was a much bigger dog than Muffin was (around 80 pounds), and she had a very different spirit and personality as well. Our family had admired Willow from the fence line since Jim and Deena had brought her home. She was less than two years old, and she was one of the most beautiful, friendly, playful, intelligent pups we had ever interacted with. Numerous times while doing yardwork, I would see Dad reaching over the fence to pet Willow’s bristly coat. Or I would find him grabbing a tennis ball from her mouth and throwing it deep into her yard. Deena had trained Willow to sit and lay down and do other commands, which always impressed my Dad. In fact, Deena had even trained Willow to retrieve the newspaper from the end of the driveway each and every morning! Dad had always talked about how beautiful she was. Airedales were a breed we were unfamiliar with, and we loved watching Willow run and frolic in the yard adjacent to ours.

Jim and Deena—wonderful neighbors and even better dog parents—had approached us with a unique situation and one that no one in our family had expected. Jim was being transferred to Florida for a new job, and the family was planning to move. Knowing that Willow was used to having her space and plenty of room to play and be active, Jim and Deena were worried about confining her to their new Sunshine State residence—a smaller condo. So, completely unexpectedly, they asked my Mom and Dad if we would be interested in taking Willow. They wanted to give us their dog!

I honestly could not believe it! I was so excited about the thought of having another dog, and both of my parents were too after they thought it through. I think their hesitancy faded because they knew what a great dog Willow was and how perfectly behaved she appeared to be. My parents thought things over for a few days, but they excitedly told Jim and Deena that we would love to have her.

And boy am I glad they did.

Willow was a tremendous dog. We had a few “trial runs” before Jim and Deena moved to make sure Willow liked us and that we felt comfortable with her, and she took to our family quicker than anyone anticipated. In fact, I remember Deena feeling so saddened because, after only a few of our brief afternoons together, Willow began to sit at the back door of Jim and Deena’s home, staring towards our house and waiting for us to come get her again! It truly was treasonous behavior, even for a dog. Deena had even fed Willow with a bottle when she was a tiny puppy, so I can only imagine how that betrayal must have felt!

After Jim and Deena said goodbye and made their way down South, Willow immediately came into our family and changed it for the better in so many amazing ways. I enjoyed taking Willow for walks—except for that one time she saw a rabbit, pulled me face down onto the street, and took off running for what felt like 47 miles. After about 30 minutes of complete terror thinking I had just lost our new family dog, she eventually came back. Willow’s excitement when we arrived home each day was so memorable. Upon hearing us on the porch, she would begin slamming her nose into the doorknob repeatedly until we opened the door. Typically, we would stand on the other side of the door for a few seconds, jiggling the handle and waiting for her to jiggle it back. Her wiggles and waggles would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Willow was also very affectionate and always gave “hugs.” If you laid down on the floor and told Willow to come give you a hug, she would run over and put each of her front legs around your shoulders. Then, she would lay her head down and nuzzle her snout in your neck and give you kisses, all the while leaving her constantly-wagging tail high up in the air. Getting hugs from Willow was the best feeling ever. I can still picture it—I can still feel it.

Willow was a funny dog who was extremely intelligent and had unique little quirks that made her personality so charming. A reluctant fetcher, Willow always knew how to make me laugh while fetching one particular toy. She had an oversized, squeaking set of rubber dentures that she would fetch in the backyard. All of a sudden, you would have an 80-pound dog running at you with these televangelist teeth and a smile from ear to puppy ear. I can still picture Dad laughing at her while she galloped through our backyard.

Or there was the bone-shaped toybox that we kept for Willow in our family room. Willow would attack that plastic toybox with her paws and snout until it popped open and she got what she wanted. She was the fun dog that I had always wanted, and she brought so much life to our house.

More than anything, I loved watching my Dad’s games of hide and go seek with Willow. You read that right, folks—hide and go seek. With a dog. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Dad would tell Willow to sit, and then he would scurry up the steps. Sometimes Willow would break from her typically-obedient nature and sneak after him, but Dad would return until he got her to sit and stare at him as he made his way upstairs. You could almost see the panic setting in on Willow’s poor little puppy face as Dad made his way up the stairs. Once he made it upstairs, Dad would choose one of a few hiding spots: behind the door, under the bed, or in the shower. Then, just when poor Willow couldn’t stand his absence any longer, Dad would shriek “OKAAAY PUPPPPPY!” in a high-pitched squeal, and Willow would go charging up the stairs. She would run around from room to room searching for my Dad. Sometimes, she would find him quickly; but most of the time it took a few minutes of sprinting around looking for him. On occasion, she would miss him entirely and charge right back down the stairs, looking for him everywhere. Eventually, she would find him; and Dad would go crazy. He would start yelling “You found me, Puppy! You’re so smart!” He would hug Willow and rub her ears, and she would try to lick his face and jump around in excitement. The two of them would keep this up for longer than any dog and human should be able to, and the joy never dissipated.

You haven’t seen joy until you’ve seen a grown man play hide and go seek with his loyal companion.

Whether they were playing hide and go seek, or taking walks, or sitting by bonfires in the backyard together, there was no mistaking one fact that was irrefutable—as much as Willow loved me and my Mom, she loved my Dad more than anyone else. End of story. No debate necessary.

Willow’s love affair with my Dad was stronger than any other human-dog relationship I had ever witnessed. Willow was always wonderful to Mom and I when we were at home; but the second my Dad got home from work, my Mom and I ceased to exist in Willow’s eyes. She would follow my Dad around for the entire night, rarely (if ever) leaving his side. If he laid on the couch, she laid right at his feet. If he got up to go the kitchen, she went. If he went to the bathroom, she would sit right outside the door and whine and occasionally claw at the door frame until he came out. If Mom and I would call for her, she would lay even closer to Dad. It was unbelievable—and Dad absolutely loved it. It’s fun to the be the favorite, and only my Dad knew just how much fun it was.

And now that Dad’s no longer around, I can admit this truth: Mom and I were very, very jealous. We wanted Willow to like us just as much as she liked Dad! In fact, I was the one who fed her dinner every single night, nearly puking every time I had to empty out a tin of that disgusting dog food in a can. How was it that I provided the food, but she still liked my Dad better?

Looking back, it’s easy to see why. My Dad always had a connection with animals—especially dogs. I think it was because he had a ridiculously tender heart. My Dad was a gentle man when it came to any human interactions, but he was just as gentle when he interacted with animals. Whenever we would visit a friend or neighbor’s home that had a pet, Dad instantly became the favorite guest. He would constantly pet them and play with them, and he never got tired of being an animal’s best friend. My Dad did a lot of construction side jobs where he would work on people’s homes, and if the homeowner had a dog, Dad was in heaven. During the time he would spend there, he would get to know the dog of the house, and he would always come home and tell Mom and I stories about the animals he interacted with. He would even bring pictures! His tender heart allowed him to establish an immediate connection with any animal he met.

Dad also had a mature patience that made him the perfect companion for a dog. If you know me well, this may not come as a surprise: I’m a rather impatient individual. I don’t always have the most even-keeled temper when things don’t go my way. I can say this with the utmost certainty: I did not inherit Dad’s patience, and I really wish I had. Dad was one of the most patient individuals I’ve ever known. Sometimes to the point where his patience was annoying to me! (See, I wasn’t lying…)

Dad’s patience really paid off when it came to animals and pets, however. Dogs, like humans, are imperfect—but in their own unique way. They bark when they aren’t supposed to. They pull and jerk when they’re supposed to walk calmly. They get afraid of fireworks. They use the restroom in non-restroom locations. Any of these things were enough to send me over the edge; but Dad rarely lost his cool with our family pets. He was stern when he trained them and disciplined them, but that direction always came from a place of love, not frustration. He understood that it might take a while for a dog to learn a particular command or behavior, and he never went ballistic if a dog behaved in a dog-like fashion. I know that made pet ownership fun for him.

But more than tenderness or patience, Dad always made our dogs’ lives fun. He never got tired of the cute and adorable things that dogs would do. Their tricks never ceased to amaze him. Their playfulness never got boring. If Willow wanted to walk further, he walked with her. If Willow wanted to play tug with a rope in the backyard, Dad would play until his arms were sore. If Willow wanted to play hide and seek for the 83rd time, Dad would just keep going. He had a sense of wonder when it came to dogs that I don’t see in many people.

That sense of wonder he had with Willow never faded over the many years that she ruled over our home, which made losing her many years later that much harder.

Let me start by saying this: there is never a good time for your dog to pass away. No matter how long they live, you just want more time. No matter how much they might frustrate you, you long for their eternal companionship. No matter how many squirrels they bark at, you never want that bark to cease. There is no good time to say goodbye—ever.

Losing a dog is hard at any time—but it’s especially hard around the holidays. Especially on Christmas.

Willow was 14 years old on Christmas Eve a few years back, and when I awoke that morning and saw my Mom enter my room with tear-filled eyes, I knew something wasn’t right. She came in and told me that Willow was not well. Her respiratory issues were making it nearly impossible for her to breathe, and after a consultation with the veterinarian over the phone, my Dad had made the decision that it was time to have Willow put to rest. As I sat in my bed and cried, Mom hugged my shoulders and told me that we didn’t have much time. In the time we did have left, she wanted me to have an opportunity to say my goodbyes.

I walked out of my room and down the hallway, stepping over Willow’s bed which sat right outside of my bedroom door. For the past twelve years since she had become ours, she slept outside my room on a pillow-style bed, waiting for my Dad to rise each morning so she could traipse behind him until he left for work.

I wondered what that next morning would be like. I wondered how horrible it would feel to walk about of my room and not see Willow laying there. To not be able to reach down and pet her head.

But as much as I worried about me, I worried so much more about my Dad.

Willow had been his best buddy in life. For twelve years, they had been inseparable any time he was in the house. In fact, my Dad always had a favorite Dad joke related to my sibling rivalry with Willow. He would grab me by the shoulder and look me square in the eye and say “You know, if it wasn’t for Willow, you would totally be my favorite child.” (I think it was a joke. I think…) I was worried about Dad losing his best friend.

As I came down the stairs, I saw Willow and I could tell that she was clearly in pain. She could only sit for a few seconds without getting up and needing to move, but she couldn’t move without being unable to breathe. It was so difficult to see our once vibrant, active dog experiencing such pain and feeling completely helpless to do anything about it.

And when I looked over by her side, I saw how much pain my Dad was in watching her suffer. Dad had clearly been crying—hard. His eyes were swollen behind his oval-shaped frames. With our family Christmas tree glistening nearby, he sat next to Willow, gently stroking her side and telling her it was going to be okay. I’ll never, ever be able to erase that image from my mind. I’ll never be able to unsee the pain my Dad was in during that moment.

I had my final moments with Willow where I told her how much I loved her. I told her what a wonderful dog she had been for so many years. I apologized to her for yelling at her when I got frustrated, and I told her how much joy she had brought to all of our lives. I told her that she had been the absolute best dog I had ever had—and I meant it, even if she did like Dad better.

I hugged my Dad and told him how sorry I was. I remember him saying that he just didn’t want to see her in pain anymore, and I could tell what a difficult decision this had been. Dad asked me if I wanted to go with him to the veterinarian’s office, and I told him I didn’t think I could. He understood, and told me Mom would be going with him. I watched as he loaded poor Willow into his truck like he had done for so many rides around town together (which she loved), and when he and Mom were clearly out of site, I completely lost it.

But just as he had promised, Dad stayed with Willow until the end. He just couldn’t leave his best friend—that was the type of man my Dad was.

Needless to say, Christmas that year was tinged with an unbelievable sadness. My entire family—my Grandpa and Grandma, my aunts and uncles, my cousins—had all loved Willow just as much as we did. We didn’t feel right having our normal Christmas Eve celebration, so we had to postpone it for a few days until the initial grief wore off. That Christmas was a rather bleak one, because Willow had always made Christmas so much fun for us—especially Dad. One of her favorite things to do was opening Christmas gifts. Dad and Mom would buy Willow all kinds of wonderful doggie Christmas gifts—snacks, toys, collars, more snacks—and they would wrap them with ribbons and bows. Somehow, Willow seemed to be able to sniff out which presents were hers. She would grab them and put them between her paws and unwrap them with her teeth one-by-one, leaving little shreds of wrapping paper all round her.

I have never seen my Dad as entertained as he was when he was watching Willow unwrap Christmas gifts. He would laugh, and laugh, and laugh some more as she pulled tiny strips of paper from her gifts. He would tell Mom and I over and over again to look at her—and we would tell him we were watching as he smiled along. I swear the man took more pictures of the dog opening her gifts than he did of his only son! But he loved it—and I knew this particular Christmas was going to feel so empty without her. We had to remove her gifts from around the tree before Christmas morning because we couldn’t bear the thought of finishing our morning and seeing only her gifts left behind.

Dad loved Christmas, but he just wasn’t the same that year—rightly so. He still enjoyed the holiday with his family, but his sadness was palpable. He just wasn’t himself that year because he missed Willow so very much. I even offered to open a few gifts with my teeth on Christmas morning. Dad laughed, and then we both talked about how much we missed Willow. He talked about how his mornings just wouldn’t be the same without having her follow him around. My heart broke for Dad.

Which is why I was so surprised when, just a few short weeks after losing her, Dad said he wanted to get another dog.

Surprised probably isn’t the right word. Because I was a know-it-all young adult, I was actually outraged. Furious. Upset that he could just “forget” about how special Willow had been.

Mom and Dad had told me sometime in January that they were talking with a breeder who had a litter of Airedales being born soon. They were planning to get one of the puppies. I couldn’t believe it! We had just lost Willow a few weeks earlier, and I didn’t see how it would ever feel right to replace her so quickly. I was still grieving her, and I didn’t understand why they wanted to get a dog so quickly.

So, I did what any self-righteous adolescent would do—I told them they could get a dog, but I refused to be nice to it or accept it. I told them that my days of scooping retched dog food out of a can were done. I told them that I was going to stand my ground, and that no amount of puppy eyes would ever be able to sway me. I may have even called my parents heartless for wanting to get another dog so quickly (talk about dramatic!). I told them that I wouldn’t budge.

And when my Dad brought Lucy home and I opened the front door, I saw two little black eyes peeking out from inside a tightly wrapped bundle held in my Dad’s arms. And I didn’t budge.

I completely caved.

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB Logo

Stay tuned for the continuation of the “Lucy” series in the coming weeks at SeeyaBub.com.

I’m Here

I think the college crisis is worse than the mid-life crisis.

I mean, come one, at least you get a motorcycle out of the latter.

I was in college. Away at college. And I felt like I just needed to get away.

I think I’ve always dealt with anxiety to a certain extent. In a sense, I think I’ve had those moments where the world just feels too overwhelming at different points throughout my life. It’s likely that I’ve suffered here and there from anxiety before I could even put a name to it.

But even though I didn’t quite know what was going on or why, my Dad seemed to know. And he seemed to understand.

And most importantly, he was there.

The Fall of my junior year in college was not the Fall I had anticipated. I was living in an apartment in Oxford, and I was navigating one of those difficult moments of my life where the road was not only less-traveled, but it was windy and curvy and full of potholes and empty of any road signs. A road that had once seemed so straight and so predictable was suddenly anything but. It was treacherous, and I was trembling.

For the few months leading up to this moment, I had been questioning so much about my journey, mainly my vocational call. For my entire life, for as long as I could remember, I had said I wanted to be a teacher (except for that one weird phase when I mysteriously wanted to be a park ranger… too much Yogi Bear I guess…). When I was little, I would actually make-believe that I was a teacher in a classroom before I even started going to school myself. Once I went to school, I took an immediate liking to it. I enjoyed being in classrooms, and I always got along with my teacher and had deep admiration and respect for them.

As a youngster, I said I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher—mainly because kindergarten was all I knew. And it was awesome. We had fingerpaints, and snacks, and we were home by noon. Even as a little kid, I would often think about all of the fun activities I would someday replicate for my own students. I pictured the joy they would experience, all the coloring we would do, and the impact I would have in their little lives.

But then, once I got into middle school, I began to really enjoy my English and Social Studies and Science classes (no offense, math teachers), and my dream of teaching kindergarten began to fade. I was slowly warming up to the idea of teaching a single subject and working with older students. Also, Barney had lost his appeal…thank God.

And just when I thought I had everything figured out, I made it to high school…and, go figure, I decided I wanted to be a high school teacher. Specifically, I wanted to teach high school English. I loved my English classes. I loved reading, and I enjoyed writing, and I really appreciated the opportunities to be creative, explore different worlds, and express myself in ways that only literature and the written word could provide. I dreamt of sharing that excitement with my high school students. I longed for the days when I could choose the books they would read. I thought intensely about lectures I would give, activities and discussions I would lead, and the hundreds of students I would be able to reach.

It was no surprise to people who knew about my dream that I decided to go to Miami University and pursue a degree in teacher education. What was a surprise to those who knew me best, however, was my decision to leave it all behind and run in a different direction.

At the end of my sophomore year, I was having serious misgivings about my vocational choice. I had taken a number of education courses, and I just didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I enjoyed the content-focused courses in the English department. Especially one class, taught by an arrogant and demeaning faculty member who was supposedly an “expert” in classroom techniques, even though he had spent only one year in the field actually teaching (wow, I guess I’m still bitter about that!). I learned I would rather be reading fiction novels than reading about how to teach them. I realized I wanted to work in education, but not the education I had always known.

So, I changed majors. To American Studies. The study of America. It sounded interesting. And…it happened to be the first major listed alphabetically in Miami University’s course catalog. The divine providence of the English alphabet still amazes me.

I dug into the curriculum, and the major looked perfect for me. I could take courses in all the areas I was passionate about and largely self-design a major that met my academic interests and desires. Literature. Communications. Political Science. Media and Journalism. History. Psychology. Nothing was off the table. It was a perfect mix.

It was also completely terrifying. People who got teacher education degrees became teachers. People who got American Studies degrees became…professional American Studiers? I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree, but I knew that studying those particular topics would make me extremely happy. Even though I was confident in my content choice, however, it didn’t diminish the employability concerns I had.

All of those feelings then decided to collide in the Fall of my junior year. Classes had only been in session for a few weeks, and I was unbelievably worried that I had made a huge mistake by dropping out of the teacher education program at Miami. Being a teacher was what I had wanted to do forever. Now, I was taking great classes, but also closing myself off from what had been my lifelong dream. Had I made a huge mistake? An irreversible one?

I was also dealing with many other huge life changes. I had made the transition from Miami’s Regional campus in Hamilton to the main campus in Oxford, and life on a residential campus was great—but it was also much different from what I was used to. Any transition, no matter when it happens, causes some anxiety. Making this transition into adulthood while simultaneously questioning the only dream I had ever known collided together in a wave of desperation and doubt, and on a random Wednesday night, I could only think of one thing…

I needed to get away.

I had been sitting in my apartment all day attempting to study. Instead, I was obsessing over the decisions I had made and convincing myself that they were all mistakes. At that time, I wouldn’t have even known what an anxiety attack was; nor would I have ever believed I was having one. Now, knowing what I know about mental illness, it’s easy to see that I was in the midst of a really severe period of overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety. The worst part is that I had kept all of this to myself. Like my Dad, I wasn’t crazy about letting people into my world far enough to see my darkness. I didn’t like the idea of telling other people I was hurting or confused or overwhelmed. I would internalize all of these feelings and endlessly ruminate over them, which likely fed a vicious loop of self-criticism and doubt that paralyzed me emotionally. And near the end of that night, I decided to get in the car and drive for a bit because getting away was the only thing I knew to do.

I got in the car and didn’t really know where I was going. In the age before smartphones or GPS devices, this was always a bit of a scary endeavor for a directionally-challenged individual like me. So I told myself to turn right out of my apartment complex, drive in a straight line, and see where it would take me.

As I drove in my silver Envoy, I passed cornfields and….well, cornfields. I began to think about everything, and my emotions started to get the best of me. Before I knew it, with the radio turned all the way down, I was beginning to tear up. I started to call myself names, questioning how I could have been so stupid to do what I had done over the past few months. How was it possible that one person could make so many idiotic decisions? And…why did that person have to be me? I drove across the Indiana state line—which sounds super dramatic to those who don’t know the geography of Oxford. Indiana was only about ten minutes away from campus, but there was something metaphorically significant about crossing a state line that made this drive feel scary. I felt like I was running away from something. I felt like I was giving up.

It was in the midst of all of these thoughts and doubts when my cell phone (a sweet Motorola Razr) began to buzz. I looked at the screen and the caller ID read “Incoming Call, Dad.”

I hesitated to pick up the phone, but after a few seconds I knew I had to. I collected myself and flipped the phone open (remember when phones used to flip?!) and put it to my ear. “Hey, Dad,” I said lightly.

“Hey, Bub. I’m here. Can you let me in?”

“You’re where?” I replied nervously.

“At your apartment. I’m standing outside,” he said.

“Oh, uh….I’m not home,” I answered.

“Where are you?” he questioned, a bit surprised.

“I….I don’t know,” I said. And then, I started to fall apart again.

I told my Dad how I just needed to go on a little drive. That I didn’t know where I was going, both on this drive and in life. I shared everything with Dad, and I let him in.

My situation hadn’t changed, but there was an immediate relief in being able to finally tell someone that I was having serious doubts.

“Bub, why don’t you come back and we will sit together and talk?” he said to me.

I listened. And I turned around. And I drove in a straight line until I was back at my apartment where I saw my Dad standing on my front porch.

The reason this story is so important is because I hadn’t told my Dad anything about how I was feeling before he drove to Oxford to visit me that night. And driving to Oxford on a whim like that was not a regular occurrence. My Mom and Dad were always planners. They came to visit me pretty often when I lived in Oxford, but they always scheduled it ahead of time. Even in college I kept a really busy schedule, so we usually had their visits to Oxford scheduled in advance.

Which is why Dad’s visit on that night was all the more special—because Dad had picked up on the fact that something was wrong. We had talked earlier in the day, but I thought I had concealed my feelings pretty well. I thought I had been able to keep my sadness to myself.

But Dad had realized that something wasn’t right. He could pick up on the fact that there was something troubling me. He knew that I wasn’t okay.

And because I wasn’t okay, he was there. He was there without warning. He was there in a moment’s notice. He was there as long as I needed him. And he was there at just the right moment.

Eerily, I look back on that night and it is strangely reminiscent of the last conversation I ever had with my Dad, even though our roles were reversed. On this night, I was the confused wanderer, perplexed by my inexplicable emotions. Dad, on the other hand, was the encourager. The trusted confidant. The Father full of wisdom and, most importantly, love.

We sat in my apartment and talked through all of the things I was feeling. I told him about my concerns for an eventual job after graduation, and Dad told me not to worry. He told me that I could major in anything, and that I would find a way to be successful. “You’re too talented,” he would say, “and any career you decide to pursue will be a good one.” Dad built up my academic confidence, reminding me that I had many years of success in the classroom that were proof of my ability to conquer the road ahead. Even in the midst of our serious conversation, Dad found a way to land a perfect joke or two at just the right moment at my expense. “How many girls have you had over to your apartment OTHER THAN the ones in that Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition calendar you have?”

Comeback? Anyone? I had nothing.

I don’t remember all the things that we talked about on that night, but I do remember this: I felt better. None of my circumstances had changed, but I felt relief. None of my decisions were any better or worse than they had originally been, but I felt hope. I felt security. I felt confidence.

And I felt all of this because of two simple words my Dad had spoken.

“I’m here.”

It was more than just physically being in my apartment. When Dad said “I’m here,” he meant he was there. He was in my corner. He was rooting me on. He was leading the way on that windy, curvy, confusing road when I couldn’t see far enough ahead to make sense of the journey. He was giving me all of the support and encouragement I would need. I don’t know whether or not my Dad agreed with my major switch, and I’m thankful for that. Instead, I know that Dad said he trusted my ability to make my own decisions. He trusted that I would find success. He empowered me to believe in myself.

Dad stayed at my apartment for a few hours that night. If my memory serves me correctly, he eventually coerced me into going out for dinner against my will. We came back to the apartment and watched television together for a little while. And then, when the night was nearing its end, he hugged me and told me that he loved me before he left for home.

My Dad didn’t have all the answers that night, so he did something even better.

He was there.

And I wish he was still here because there have been so many moments, just like this one, where I still need him.

There have been moments in my life, and there will always be moments, where I will revert to that same young college kid from many years ago—a young, lost, and wandering boy who just needs his Father for a little encouragement and advice. There have been moments when I’ve been at a crux in the road with an important decision to make that I’ve grabbed for my phone (no longer a Razr) and began dialing those familiar numbers, only to realize that he will never again pick up on the other line. There have been moments when I have felt his loss so deeply that I break down inexplicably, unable to escape the grief of losing him so suddenly, unexpectedly. Those moments are completely paralyzing. They rob me of my joy; but they can never rob me of my Dad’s memory.

That’s because even though Dad isn’t here, he is here. Even though he has been gone from this Earth for nearly five years now, I still feel Dad’s gentle hand guiding me and directing me on a daily basis. Although I can’t experience his physical embrace, I feel his watchful eye from up above, encouraging me when I doubt, celebrating with me when I find joy, and telling me that he is proud of me over and over and over again. When I open my eyes, I only see his absence; but when I close them, I see that beaming smile, those kind eyes, and a Father who is still with his wandering son.

I still feel my Dad saying “I’m here” in those moments where I crave his presence most. I hear him reminding me that he is here with me in each and every moment. There will be crises and good moments and desperate moments that fill the pages of my own life story, but it will be my Dad’s spiritual presence that is the common denominator in all of those moments. I am fortunate that I have a Heavenly Father who guides and directs me in the God I serve, but I’m lucky because I have another Father in Heaven doing the same exact thing.

My Dad may be gone, but he is still here.

Me Dad and Lucy at Picnic with SB LogoDad, There were so many moments just like that night in college where your presence alone was all I needed to find happiness. You had an uncanny way of knowing the moments when people needed you most, and you responded with grace and unconditional love each time you were called. Nearly every day, Dad, I experience a moment when I just wish more than anything that you were here. I miss your smile, your voice, your heart, your shiny bald head, and everything that made you so very special. But in those moments where I experience your loss most severely, I try and remind myself that you are here. You are still watching. You are still listening. And you are still loving me and all those who feel your absence. Dad, thank you for always being there and for still being here. Thank you for being at my side at a moment’s notice–both in the moments when I knew I needed you, and especially in those I didn’t. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough. But, until that day when I try my best to let you know how much you are missed and how much you are loved, seeya Bub.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15 (ESV)

Years Go By

Four years.

Four years today.

It’s been four years since that really painful day. Four years since I saw my Dad for the last time. Four years since I heard the fateful words that my Dad was gone forever.

I was recently having a conversation about losing my Dad and I was asked “Does it feel like it’s been four years since he died?”

Yes it does. And no, it doesn’t.

Feelings are complex. And they feel even more complicated in the aftermath of losing my Dad. Questions that I could have once answered easily are so much more difficult now.

I responded to that complex question with a complex answer—the only way I knew how. The only way I honestly felt.

In some ways, it feels like the hours and days drag on, especially during that first year that Dad was gone. Immediately after Dad died, it felt like the hands on the clock had stalled. Days would drag on because my heart hurt so bad. There were times when life felt like a life sentence. I felt like I couldn’t escape the heartbreak of losing my Dad, and there were days when I felt like I was just living to run out the clock. So, yes, I feel the pain of those four years in each and every moment.

In these four years, I’ve had many sleepless nights. Many nights where I lay in bed and stare at the ceiling wondering, questioning, and obsessing over the fact that my Dad is no longer here with me. The pain of those moments is all too real.

But on other days, it feels like the trauma of losing my Dad happened just yesterday. At any given moment—sometimes in conscious wake and other times interrupted with the terror of a bad dream—I can be right back in that moment. I can remember walking towards my parents’ and seeing the police lights. I can hear the sirens. I can see the EMT’s and paramedics rushing around the yard and into my childhood home. I can still hear the terror of my Mom’s cry when we heard the news. I can feel the grass when I fell into the yard. I can remember the sights and sounds of that moment as if it just happened.

I wish I could escape it.

That trauma will be with me for as long as I live, and even though it’s been four long years since losing my Dad, the vividness of that tragedy is still just as sharp as it’s ever been. I expected the vivid feel of those immediate moments to fade and numb with time…but they haven’t. At all.

And then again, I feel like my Dad has been gone for so, so long. I haven’t had a conversation with my Dad in four years, but it feels like it’s been ages since I’ve seen his smile. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve felt the strong embrace of one of his hugs and his beard would brush against my neck. It feels like its been a lifetime since I’ve felt the calloused skin of his hands as he would rub my hair when he saw me. It feels like eternity since I’ve heard him say “Seeya, bub” to me as he left for work or hung up the phone.

And when I think about that, it causes me tremendous pain because it’s only been four years. Four brutally painful years have felt like an eternity of separation, and that worries me. I have a long life to live on this Earth, God willing, and if the pain of losing my Dad is already this intense, how will it feel in eight years? Or twenty? Or fifty?

How will that pain feel when I get married? How will that pain feel when I have children of my own? How will that pain feel when those children are old enough to ask me about my Dad, their Grandpa? How will that pain feel in all those moments, big or small, when I need my Dad the most?

I can’t answer, because I just don’t know. But I know that the common denominator in all of this is a feeling of loss. A feeling of being robbed from a life taken too soon.

I know this truth: You can only feel tremendous pain if you’ve lived in tremendous love. You can only feel this absence if there’s love that is missing. You can only feel loss because of love. And my Dad loved me. And I loved him.

Yes it’s been four years, but I was fortunate to know that for 26 beautiful years, I lived on this Earth with the shining example of what a Father should be. And I’m thankful that I didn’t just have him here for those 26 years, but that I truly lived life with him for those 26 years. He was more than a Father. He was a Dad.

When I think back over those 26 years, I can’t think of a time where I went for more than a week without seeing him or talking to him. I went to college locally and stayed in my hometown after graduation, so I’ve had a privilege that I know not everyone has in this life.

But there was always one constant when you saw my Dad after a period of absence, be it short or long: a warm welcome home. A smile. A hug. A tender greeting delivered straight from his ridiculously caring heart.

It brings tears to my eyes to think that I might not have always appreciated those welcomes. It hurts my heart to know that I haven’t had one of Dad’s greetings in four years.

But it renews my soul and gives me unbelievable hope to know that the greatest greeting is yet to come.

Yes, I believe that my Dad will be waiting there for me when I eventually reach the paradise that God has promised me in Eternity. I’ll recognize my Dad, but he will be perfect in every way, even though he already seemed perfect to me when he was here on Earth. God promises the miraculous on the other side, so who knows…maybe my Dad will even have a full head of hair?! Selfishly, I hope he’s still bald when I get there. Because that’s how I remember him. I’m sure we will have a good laugh about his head either way.

I look forward to that good laugh. I look forward to seeing my Dad again, and I have each and every day over these past four years.

And I look forward to never, ever having to say goodbye to him again.

When I visualize the journey over these last four years as a physical terrain, I see what God means when he talks about life being full of hills and valleys. The valleys have been numerous and they have been deep since that awful July morning. They have been full of darkness and doubt and anger. And yes, as hard as it may be to imagine, there has been wonderful mountaintops where life has seemed happy again. Of course these moments have been tinged with sadness, but to think that life after loss is always hopeless just isn’t true. Life still has tremendous moments of beauty, thanks to the God I serve.

But there is a common theme in all these four years, whether I slogged through the valley or stood at the peak: God rules over both.

It’s no coincidence that God knew I would need this message on this anniversary. Today, when I got in my truck (always Dad’s truck), I made the decision to abandon my usual morning-news routine and listen to some music. And a song given to me by a friend a few weeks ago came through just when I needed it to remind me that God is always with me, both at the foot of the mountain and at its peak.

The song is Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells, and I’ve included the video here. Would you take a moment this morning, on this anniversary of my Dad’s death, to honor his memory by listening to this song? It would mean the world to me, to my family, and to all those who loved my Dad.

The reality for me is that God has been with me through these four years. And He will be there with me for all the years to come. And I’m thankful that my Dad is with him, and that all the pain he felt on this Earth is completely gone. My Dad is on the hilltop, and he will be there forever and ever.

So yes, it’s been four years. There are days when it’s felt like four days, and there are days where it’s felt like forty years. But the time here on Earth pales in comparison to the eternity I will spend with my Dad. I will never stop living the life he would want me to live for as long as God wants me to live it, but I know that all the pain of these past four years will wash away when I see that smile again.

Dad and Lucy in Pool with SB LogoDad, I hate that I ever had to say goodbye to you. It’s been four years since I said goodbye to you for the last time here on this Earth. I feel the pain of losing you each and every day. I would give absolutely anything to have you back, even if only for a day. For 26 years, you were always here for me, and now that you aren’t I feel the awful heartache of losing you. But I know that I could only feel that heartache because you touched my heart in ways no one else could. You taught me so many important lessons in this life, but more than anything you taught me that love matters above all else. In every moment of every day, I never doubted your love for me, for my Mom, for our family, and to all who mattered to you. You didn’t just tell people that you loved them, you showed them. And I’m thankful for that. The days stretch on without you, Dad. There are days, like today, when it’s all I can do to get out of bed at the thought of losing you. But I know that all of the wonderful moments we shared in our time together here will be completely outshined by the life we will live together in the glory of God’s grace. Thank you, Dad, for everything. I’ll never be able to tell you how much I loved you, but until that day when I try, seeya Bub.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)