I'd watch him from my bedroom window. He didn't wear athletic clothes, just faded jeans or khaki shorts and a Duck Commander t-shirt (always tucked in with a belt), a baseball cap, and New Balance tennis shoes paired with tall, white socks. He'd take our old, lumpy dog with him every time, never keeping her on a leash. He'd use the shock collar, but never actually use it, and I'd watch him hold the remote's lanyard, swinging it one way until it wrapped around his closed fist, then the other way. No iPod or cell phone. Just thoughts and the image of Bee weaving her way through neighbors' yards, sniffing dead things and jumping in the creek.
It was comforting to see my dad out walking. Like he was solving the world's problems, and everything would be OK after he was home. Even better was tagging along, because that's when we'd plan. Following the same route every single time, it would take the three of us forty-five minutes to get back home. I'd practically gallop trying to keep up with his no-nonsense pace--a famous trait of his, and one he passed down to me and my brother. After hitting the second stop sign, I'd quit worrying about Bee running too far off or getting in the way of a car, and we'd start reviewing the Plan.
Tweaking. Mapping out. Dreaming up.
The Plan was my life, and we had it all figured out: major in Psychology--which changed to Communications--and minor in Education, complete the 4+1 plan, thereby graduating in five years with a Masters in Education, teach elementary (which changed to middle school, which then changed to high school) kids somewhere in Nashville or Chattanooga, and then feel accomplished, maybe marrying and having a family and writing a book to top it all off. It was comforting to talk like we were in control.
We mulled over studying abroad, so much so that he helped me open a savings account named "Scotland."
Sometimes we talked about boys. But not often.
If I'm honest, he'd be consoling me most of the time, reminding me to "rise above" whatever drama/failure/heartbreak had just unfolded. He didn't accept unknown answers or wallowing, and his confidence made me feel safe. God knows I've always been a paranoid, questioning kind of human. I leaned heavily into his ability to fix everything. To sense a need and fill it before I ever asked. To drive all the way up to Nashville when our dorm shower was clogged and flooding the bathroom. To research concert tickets like it was a game. To take me out for frozen yogurt and Books-a-Million on rotten days. To love me with actions more than words.
After he died, sometimes I thought I missed what he did more than who he was. It made me sick. And whether it was car trouble or money questions, I'd always, always cry. As if I was alone and incapable. And he was the only one who could do anything about it.
My dad took incredible care of me, and because of that, I never had to take care of myself in certain areas. I just knew he'd handle it. And he loved that. I'm beyond blessed to have such a thoughtful man in my life. God, I'm mourning our walks. I'm mourning how he cared for me with a strong presence. I'm mourning my confidant, my ice cream date, and my number one phone call.
Today, one year and almost eight months later, there is no Plan. No matter how hard I tried holding onto his guidance, no matter how stubbornly I fought change, I've made decisions and spoken up and said no and tried and, yeah, even wallowed for a while. Nothing is the same as it was before September, 2014. A new major, friends, home, school...it's all different. Me, especially.
It sounds pretty sappy to say, but if we were walking right now, and I was filling him in on all of the tough choices and brave changes, I know my dad would be proud. Maybe the proudest he's ever been. Even though he did a lot of life's hard work for me, in his heart and head he surely wanted me to be big enough to do it myself. He was just being a dad. And I'm being his daughter.