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One Last Cup

I haven't talked to my dad face to face in almost fifteen years. Fifteen years since I hugged him. Fifteen years since I heard his voice. Fifteen years since he walked this Earth.

I started thinking about what our conversation would look like if I could sit down with him just one more time. Just one more heart to heart - this time at the age of 37 instead of 22. Prior to his death, as I was getting older, I started to cherish and NEED those interactions with him.  I miss that the most. He was so calm and laid back and wise. He was a perfectly healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking 43-year-old when a stroke took him from us. I miss him, terribly.

I picture us sitting in a diner somewhere having coffee. He and I shared a love for coffee early on. I think I was 15 when I first started drinking it with him. I'd steal cups from the pot that my mom would brew for him and eventually it became our thing. "Hey Nic, wanna cup of coffee?"

If I close my eyes, I can hear his voice saying those words.

I think he'd pick an older diner type place. We loved the Copper Dome over on Randolph in St. Paul. Maybe we'd go there. We'd order our coffee and to be perfectly honest, if I had the opportunity, I would probably just stare at him. Just take him all in. I'd smell him. And touch his hand. He had these amazing light blue eyes. They were always a little watery from his "hay fever". I would just burn that vision of him into my mind so I could have it for eternity. My dad.

We would chat effortlessly, like parents and their adult children do. First and foremost, I'd want him to know that my Mom is OK. She really is. You see, my parents had the type of love that I have yet to see again, to this day. I remember observing other married couples and thinking that my parents were different, they had something so special.  Their love story was something that you just don't come across often, especially today. They defied all the odds and all the statistics. It started with a teen pregnancy which lead to a teen marriage. Doomed from the start, they all said. But they persevered. It wasn't easy and it didn't come without it's own set of challenges. But it left me knowing that someday I wanted a love like that.  My dad was my mom's everything. They had six children and my mom balanced motherhood and being a wife, beautifully. As a mother and a wife myself, I now have the greatest amount of respect for that quality of hers. She loved my dad like she has never loved anything else before. I saw that, and my brothers saw that. As a result of that intense love, we tend to love our people with a deep ferociousness. Just like they did. Anyone who encountered my parents could easily see they adored each other. So, without a doubt, I know my dad would want to talk about her first. So after that first sip of piping hot coffee, I'd say: Mom is even more beautiful, strong, and wise now than she was then. She is more than OK. She has flourished and she found love again. She misses you terribly and we talk about you often. Sometimes those conversations are tear filled- but they always have, and always will, hold more laughter than anything else. She amazed most people when she picked herself up and accomplished what most could never do. She pressed on, without her soul mate. And all six of us kids are better off because of it. She's amazing, but I bet you already knew that.

Without a question, I'd imagine our next topic would be Samuel. We were all so sad when my dad died. It was so sudden and so traumatic. But little Sammy wasn't even two years old yet. He had no clue what he had just lost and that is still so painful for me to process. So while we all mourn our actual loss, Samuel mourns the loss of what would have been. He was the light of our dad's life. Our dad threw EVERYTHING into being Sam's dad. Our dad wasn't around much when we were growing up because he was always working, frequently out of town. But by the time Samuel was born he had the freedom to be home more. And he relished in every single moment of it. I look back at that extra time our dad had with Sam and thank God he had that opportunity, not knowing that his time with Samuel would be cut so incredibly and unfairly short. I imagine I'd set my cup down and say: Samuel is the perfect culmination of the other five of us kids. He has so much of you in him, it's impossible to not see your personality shining right through. He is so sweet, smart, insanely athletic but most importantly - he is kind. He is fiercely loyal and protective of Mom. Their relationship is one of a kind and you would be unbelievably proud of the man he is becoming.

Naturally, Tony would come up next. Tony is one of the best people I know. He is a pioneer in our family. He was the catalyst for change within our family dynamic, even before our dad died. Our dad knew Tony was special. I could tell by the way he treated him. I could tell by the special little traditions he and Tony had. I could tell by how our dad had perfected the art of letting Tony, just be Tony. He was only nine when our dad died and I don't know if he fully grasped what was happening at the time. I do know that my heart broke for him continuously over the years. I was lucky enough to have a dad for 22 years, Tony only had him for nine. It just doesn't seem fair. I look back and think of all Tony has endured - and how hard things were for him sometimes - it probably would have been really nice for him to have his dad around for much of what he had to deal with. So, after I'd finish that first cup of coffee, I'd probably tell him: The secret little McDonalds outings are something Tony holds close to his heart, and remember all those trips to the bank? He'd hoard those gold dollar coins like they were actually part of a buried treasure. Tony has one of the best hearts I know. He's giving and selfless and sees the good in everyone - that quality reminds me of you, Dad. That willingness to give everyone a shot. Tony's strength and tenacity are astounding. He has overcome more than any of us can ever imagine and will continue to do so. I'm insanely in awe of who he is becoming - and I know you would be too.

I'm guessing our next topic would be "The Boys" as they were always known - Matthew, Michael, and Adam. Our dad was their idol, he was their best friend. And ya know what? They were my dad's best friends. Seriously. I remember thinking as a teenager and almost feeling sorry that my dad had no friends. Well, jokes on me because he did have friends - they just happened to be his family, namely, his boys. And losing our dad was awful for them. They lost him at a pivotal point in their lives - right at the start of adulthood. Right as they were graduating, becoming men, and becoming fathers. But in his absence they have done nothing but blow me out of the water with their capability and drive - the fathers they have become, their work ethic, their compassion, their ability to pick up the slack and take care of others. This all came at a time when they were starting their own lives and careers and families - they did what our dad had taught them to do and that was to step up. I've seen them do this with Sam and Tony after our dad was gone, they took care of our mom, too. They've stepped up countless times with my kids, and now with their own children. Most recently, Michael is doing this. He's being a dad - even when he doesn't have to be. So, in that noisy old diner I'd say: Ya know what Dad? In a world full of men who brush off their responsibilities as parents, these three have done nothing but dive head first into being parents. And they have done it beautifully. Proud is not even a word I think would describe how you would feel about them. You did, in your short time here on Earth, what many never succeed in doing in their lifetimes - you raised good men. There are times that all three of them are so much like you - they sound like you, they laugh like you, they look like you, they tell stories like you, they love politics like you, they even answer the phone just like you. It takes my breath away. Oddly enough, I almost feel lucky - I get those pieces of you, in them. They are you, in three different people. As hard as it was to lose you, it's like some of you was left behind.

I was 22 when my dad died and in my junior year of college. I needed him. I needed my Dad. And then he was gone...and I just kind of fell apart. It took a long time and a lot of mistakes to find myself again. To find that "Nic" that I was when he died. But over our second cup off coffee, I'd tell him this: I have a whole bunch of kids. And they all remind me of you in some way. I mourn you, absolutely.  But I also mourn the fact that they never had the pleasure of hearing your laugh. Or seeing your smile. I have a really wonderful husband. You'd like him. He reminds me of you - in how he parents effortlessly. He's terribly laid back and that drives me nuts. But he's good. He's a good man and an even better father and husband. I hope you're proud of me. I would hope you'd be happy with where I'm at and how far I've come and where I'm headed. I want you to know how missed you are. How you left your mark all over this family and there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of you. The legacy you left is nothing I can even put into words. You had an unending faith in God and I will always respect that about you. I'm not sure what the afterlife consists of, I wish I did. But I hold on to hope that there has to be a way that I will see you again someday.

Maybe in a diner, over a cup of coffee.


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