In the final weeks of my father’s life, we asked him, “How would you like people to celebrate you once you are gone?”
“No party,” he grumbled. “No party.”
Let me tell you something about my dad: He never missed a party. He never missed a celebration for someone he cared about. He never missed a funeral for someone significant in his life that had passed. This is the guy who attended every high school and neighborhood reunion possible, and he lived 3,000 miles away from where they were held.
There was something beautiful and conflicting about my father. While he was prickly on the outside, he was soft and vulnerable on the inside. He was gruff, grumpy, and downright curmudgeonly at times. If you sat next to him and listened to the conversations he had with his friends and family, you might wonder if he liked them at all.
Then he would call you to just check in. “Haven’t heard from you. How is this? How is that?” He did not forget a problem another person was having until it was resolved. He was in tune with everyone he knew. He was acutely aware of how the people in his life were doing.
He had developed an exterior — an armor of sorts — to protect what lay beneath. Because what was under the layers of his tough persona was someone who felt. Someone who perhaps felt too much at times. It was part of his beauty; it was part of his curse.
So here you had someone who was constantly complaining about the world but thoroughly enjoyed being in it. He loved parties. He loved people. He loved to work. He loved to play.
He was a complicated man with a purpose in all areas of his life. He moved through his days with precision. It made him a wonderful engineer. A terrific builder of things. An unforgettable friend. A consistent father. The steward of his family.
He was the glue in our family.
He was the glue.
When I was a little girl, he was my hero. A force. When I was in first grade and filling out an assignment asking what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote, “I want to work at TOTE as my dad’s secretary.” When I was young and people asked me what he did for a living, I responded, “He is a working golf ball.” Whatever my small understanding of his work life was, I just knew I wanted to be with him. I wanted more of him.
He was the dad who rescued me from drowning in a friend’s pool by pulling me out by my pigtails. We joked that he rescued me when I fell out of bed one time, too. He worked during the week and when he was home he was building decks that wrapped around our house. As a little girl observing the first man in my life, I saw someone strong, somewhat elusive but always consistent.
I will admit we didn’t have many good times together in my teenage years and young adulthood. We both had some growing up to do. Mine was a growing up, my father’s was more of a growing out. He had been working tirelessly since he was a teenager. After years of working, years of providing, he wanted to taste a new type of freedom. I guess you can say we both had our crosses to bear during that time.
In the final weeks of his life, my sisters and I sat with him at his kitchen table. We listened to him as he faced the end of his life. He had so much he wanted to say. In light of his revelations, the troubles he and I had during my youth finally made sense. He bared his soul, and in doing so freed mine. I am so very grateful for that reckoning.
But that is who he was. He was never one to miss the lesson in something. Dad was about seeing the wisdom in things. Making sure all things were as they should be. Precision.
He saved the best for last. Our last years together were the best. As his hectic life wound down and he embraced retirement, I got to have more of him. More phone calls. More e-mails. More visits. Just more. He came for his three-day trips to the Bay Area. He walked around my new house and declared, “You have a lot of work to do here.” Snicker, snicker.
When I had my son, Drake, Dad flew down with my sisters four weeks later. There he was, getting out of the car, walking up my steps, sitting on the sofa, and saying, “Let me see him.” I placed my little boy in his hands. (Mind you, my dad was a man’s man with three daughters and four granddaughters. This was a big moment for him.) My father then proceeded to pull Drake’s diaper down to ensure he had a winky dink. “I waited a long time for one of these,” he said.
Dad was my consistency. My rock. My support system. The foundation upon which so much of my life has been built. He wasn’t a cuddly, Hallmark card kind of guy, but he never missed sending a birthday or holiday card.
In the final weeks of his life, my sisters and I got to witness so much more of who my father was. His river ran deeper with people than we ever imagined. He painstakingly called and e-mailed most of the people he wanted to say good-bye to. He opened up to us. He let us hold his hand.
Near the end, I asked him to share with me some words of wisdom I could share with Drake when he was older. “What do you want him to know about you, Dad?” I asked him. “What do you want him to know about what it means to be a man?”
Here is what he said:
“Never stop. Never give up. With gritted teeth, never stop. If they knock you down, stand up again. Just never, ever stop, until you can’t walk anymore.”
He was a force in this world. A man from a different era, one in which hard work and grit were the measures of a man. He worked hard; he played hard. He was consistent in the way he moved through life. He was his own man. Most of all, he was real.
And finally, the thing he showed us was not only how to live but how to die with grace. As death became imminent he held our hands, and with tears streaming down his cheeks he said, “This is forever.” He made sure we knew our love was forever.
That is the irony and beauty of Rich Griffith and the thing that made him so God damn special. He would grumble at me for saying these things, but there was a part of him that wanted this moment to happen.
And now it has. God bless you, Dad.