Living life with a changed brain.
One part of the bewildering journey that comes after parents pass away is the process of sorting through their house. While going through my childhood room, riddled with folders of papers left from high school, I found a letter my Dad wrote to me as I began my senior year of high school. It seemed to be a requirement for my AP English class as a journal prompt. (Thanks Tami Mullett!!)
When I found it and recognized his cursive handwriting (I fondly remember that it was always hard to read, but the tremor from what we thought was Parkinson’s Disease, later diagnosed as MSA, made it worse in this case) I immediately got emotional wondering what he might’ve written to me… My mind raced thinking this would answer questions I was wanting to ask him - that somehow it would help fill the hole in my heart that he left when he passed.
Then I read it.
I never thought my Dad was a man of many words; I wouldn’t have described him as verbose. Unsurprisingly, his letter was simple and to the point.
He told me how proud he was of my accomplishments, my good grades, my work ethic. Admittedly, I was disappointed at first that it didn’t answer all the questions I’ve had that I can no longer ask; it didn’t immediately strike me deeply on an emotional level.
But what surprised me was how well the letter summed up the kind of man I knew him to be - a man with strong moral values, a generous leader with kindness, faith, and pride. What further surprised me was how important it seemed to be for him to encourage me to use my good fortune to help those less fortunate.
Reflecting on this letter, his words resonate with me deeply. I would like to share a transcription of the letter, because I can’t sum it up any better than he has written:
As you are beginning your Senior year in High School, I am reflecting on your achievements + accomplishments both academically and in sports, community involvement + social activities.
I am especially grateful for the opportunity to be your Coach for athletic participation during your elementary years of education. You reflect a competitive yet “Good Sport” attitude at further challenges. I am also very proud of the grade point average you have maintained during your school years. A GPA of more than 4.0 is an outstanding achievement.
It is apparent that your musical expertise is a result of both parental and professional involvement(?) in your development.
None of these accomplishments would have been possible without your great work effort and attention to the subjects at hand.
I would like to encourage you to continue further studies + community involvement with the same intensity.
I would like to remind you of the value of volunteer work. We, more fortunate, have a duty to step up and lead or assist in activities for ones less able to help oneself.
Again Congratulations on your outstanding accomplishments and we pray that your great work ethic and positive attitude will lead you to further great accomplishments.
Love Dad “65”
And yes, for some reason he put his age at the time in quotations at the end.
His letter touches upon one of the elements of my childhood that I probably took for granted at the time, but appreciate now more than ever. Because my parents had me at an older age (my Mom was 42 and my Dad was 48 and people called me a miracle baby to my face more times than I can count, but that’s a story for another time) -my Dad retired from being a Prison Captain at the Ionia Riverside Correctional Facility when I was 4. Because of that, I had so much more time with him than I would have if he’d still been working. He taught me about how to take care of horses and how to bale hay, and I helped him as he trained horses for harness racing. It allowed him to coach many of my childhood teams in both basketball and softball. He may not have been up on all the current sport theories, but he instilled in every one of my teammates the importance of having a positive attitude and being a good sport. He never let the misfortunes of the game cloud his judgement or make him visibly angry. He took everything in stride. I still admire that about him.
Throughout high school, as I volunteered and worked throughout the community, folks would come up to me and ask if I was “Captain Dan’s” daughter and when I confirmed, they would often convey how much they respected him as a boss telling me that he was always fair and just.
Though my Dad didn’t have a musical bone in his body, he supported me in everything I did - even when I chose musical endeavors over sports. His retirement allowed him to come to all of my games and important events, all of my concerts and performances all the way through college until the advancement of the disease Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) took away so much of his physical strength. Even in the hospital near the end of his life, he told the nurses that he had to toughen me up because I planned to move to New York! While I still haven’t made my way out of Michigan, I can tell you that after the events of the last years I’ll be tough as nails when I do.
My Dad was simply the best. I am forever grateful for the values my Dad instilled in me and for the comfort and strength he provided throughout my life. I hope my work, my music, and how I live my life will be a testament to his undying love and support.
June 17, 2020 will be the fourth anniversary of his passing, and I will perform a concert in memory of him. Growing up, Dad almost solely played the Oldies radio station whenever we were in the car. So, I am including some of our favorite oldies tunes along with some of my new original music.
Join me live at 7pm EST on Facebook Live, or catch the concert afterwards on my youtube channel.
The digital program will have links to places you can donate to make a difference in the current state of our nation in the fight for justice for those the system seems to have deemed less fortunate.