I was lucky enough in my life to have two dads.
Some have none.
And God blessed me with two.
One is summers and weekends, playing in the yard after dark, chasing lightning bugs. He is motorcycle grease and the smell of chewing tobacco and empty Pepsi bottles thrown in the back of his red Thunderbird. My first dad is a Weird Al song screamed out a window as we speed down the backroads, down Highway 30 towards the falls.
He taught me how to have a sense of humor. How to take a normal pop song and mess up the words in just the right way so that everyone in the car laughed. How to watch Star Trek and Syfy and love learning new things. He taught me the meaning of hard work, of never showing your tired, of always showing up, even when you’re overworked and underpaid.
My birth dad was and still is one of my heroes.
But I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have two dads.
My second dad was every day in between. After school and soccer games. He was splashing in a creek behind our house and watching drive-in movies from the roof. He was riding my training wheel-less bike down the street when I refused to. He was the Tarzan soundtrack as we drove everywhere and anywhere and games of Freeze Out on cold winter nights.
He was taking long walks around the block and naming every single plant he could find. He was little red wagons that he stole from me and then rode down a hill in, only to break and then laugh until our sides hurt. He was America’s Most Wanted and Saturday night WWE and Friday Night Singings.
He was the definition of proud, and he never let me forget it. From cheering me on during soccer games to watching me walk across the stage at my high school, then college, graduation. From the day he walked me down the aisle to the all-nighter he pulled to welcome my son into the world.
My second dad taught me how to love. That it’s unconditional and has nothing to do with blood. That it never, ever ends, even after the Lord takes them from you. He taught me that it doesn’t matter if you’re a step-dad, it’s the being there that counts. He taught me to be silly, to make the most ridiculous jokes and that it doesn’t matter if no one else laughs and that the answer to “how are you feeling?” is always “with my hands.”
He taught me to never give up.
I watched him struggle for years with a heart condition—back to back surgeries and therapies and amputations and hospital stays—and never once did he give up. He always found a reason to come back home.
Even when they told him there wasn’t anything left they could do.
That his heart had given all its love and strength to the people around him and that his time was coming to an end.
He never gave up.
He still joked. Mostly about how he was going to be up running through the yard, driving his Hoveround down the driveway and annoying us all again before we knew it.
He still loved. Enough to tell his sister that he hadn’t given up on her coming to church and to tell me how glad he was that I was there with him.
Until the very, very last minute—My dad gave. His time, his money, his attention, his love. He gave everything he had to anyone else who needed it.
It’s been a year today.
A year without his silly jokes. A year without his toothless smile. A year without his cigarette smoke hugs or his goofy singing voice. A year without him telling me he loves me. (That one hurts the most.)
And a year without telling him I love him back.
Grief is a powerful thing. It makes me feel like I’m drowning under the weight of good memories, like I’m suffocating under the empty space left behind, like no one will ever fill his shoes. It shuts me down and kicks me while I’m hurting. It doesn’t discriminate between good and bad days, and it loves to sneak up on me when I least expect it—like when I drive past a field of crops and wonder what they are (he always knew) or when I get anxious about having a tire blow out (who would come save me off the side of the road if not him?).
But grief also helps me remember.
And it helps me appreciate.
And it shows me how lucky I was.
Because in my life, I was blessed with two dads.