In honor of Memorial Day, it seemed fitting to share a sunny afternoon, a long overdue conversation, and a bouquet of red carnations with the man who shaped so many of my beliefs and characteristics. My dad, a man of: Strict faith, sly humor, compact build, and more than his fair share of quirks. Most of those idiosyncrasies were endearing and laced with contradiction.
For instance my dad, in his prime, was a take-charge-dawn-to-dusk-I-wonâ€™t-quite-until-the-job-is-done kind of guy. He practically owned the label of â€œStoic Norwegian Lutheranâ€ which included a strong whiff of chauvinism when it came to a womanâ€™s proper place in the world.
Imagine my surprise when, during an afternoon coffee break, he casually admitted admiration for a particular flower. A favorite car? Yes, that would fit.
A favorite gun, power tool, or football player?
But a flower? Thatâ€™s the equivalent of imagining he preferred wearing velvet bib overalls while milking cows or mucking out the barn. (Although the mental image makes me smile in a weird, Twilight Zone kind of way.) My dadâ€”a man who found it difficult to hug his childrenâ€”was a secret flower-loving softy. Carnations, as it turned out, were his favorite. Red ones. Maybe pink ones were okay as long as they were a dark pink.
And so, carnations are what I presented to him on this day. It was hard to know if they pleased him, but I chose to think they did.
We talked about the weather, the passage of time, why I havenâ€™t been around to see him more often, and about how much he echoes through my adult life. I told him I loved him, missed him, and how much I wanted just one hug. Just one embrace to remember what was, what is, and what will be.
I reached out my arms and rested my hands upon the curved marble of his headstone. He died October 5, 2013. Tracing the date with my finger didnâ€™t change a thing, but I had to do it anyway. â€œDad,â€ I said, â€œHappy Memorial Day. Your service to country, family, and God were impeccable.â€
It was a good day. I visited my father, and brought him red carnations.