I’m sorry if this is a bit long, brevity is not my middle name. My middle name is heather, by the way. My dad gave it to me.
Jen got us these heart necklaces that are also tiny urns with my dad’s ashes in them. And knowing Jens’ track record with her keys, and wallet, and sunglasses, and phone, and laptop, I think we all know by the size of this thing that she’s about to lose our dad twice.
I wanted to make this funny, to make you all laugh instead of cry like my dad would have wanted. I struggled to write this, my strong desire to take you all out of your pain while the need to give you and myself the dignity to live with it causing a conflict in my heart bigger than Trump’s civil war. I guess all I can do is be honest, even in the face of unfairness, and pain, and broken heart pieces. But especially in the face of giant never ending love, which is the legacy that my dad left us. And how do I do this anyway? How do I tell you, in a 10 or maybe 30 minute talk all about the great man and father my dad was? I probably can’t. There is no way for me to accurately convey to you what was was like having the best man you’ve ever known be your own father.
I can tell you that every moment with my dad felt like an adventure. He made all 3 of us feel like we were the most precious things on earth, and I believe that to him we really were. Jennifer, his numero uno, Elizabeth, forever his princess, and me, his special girl.
As we all know, jerry was loud and fun and the life of the party, but the best thing about my dad was that he always stopped to appreciate and point out the beautiful seconds that made up every minute of the party he was creating in our lives. And he taught us to do the same. With every road trip or big vacation, every Christmas, or any holiday, every sunset or just plain old gorgeous day, came the moment when my dad would stop us right in the middle of the excitement and say “come here princess, let me show you something. Isn’t this just fabulous? Aren’t we so lucky?”
And we were.
Jerry wasn’t ever too embarrassed to say how he felt, right in the moment. He never let ego or shame get in the way of expressing his love out loud. He just wanted you to know, you know? I think my dad taught us all that loving with reckless abandon is the BEST act of revolution. Today I’ve picked this lesson out of the countless other ones he gave us, and decided I will try to pass it on to you, too. I even have it tattooed on my arm for good measure.
If you knew my dad and I, you knew we didn’t always quite see eye to eye.
Jerry and I didn’t agree on politics (obviously). We didn’t agree on whether or not my 82 bad tattoos were a good idea (turns out they weren’t, sorry dad), or if marijuana was really a drug. Eventually, we couldn’t agree on whether or not a cocktail every day was the best choice, though it took me a long time to get there.
We didn’t agree on who his favorite daughter was either; one of us thought it might be Jen, while the other one knew it was for sure, with every fiber of his being.
When I was about 5, my dad took me to Disneyland for the first time, and we rode on Pirates Of The Caribbean. We got to the part of the ride where two pirate ships are in battle, shooting cannons at each other, our small fiberglass boat on it’s metal track perfectly placed in the fake crossfire. Small explosions were going off around us, splashing us just enough for a quick thrill. The cannon soundtrack boomed on speakers somewhere above us and I heard water hitting water. I buried my head into his shoulder.
“None of this is real, princess,” he said. “Don’t be scared.”
As a child, even as Jerry’s daughter, I was afraid of everything, and my imagination was my worst enemy.
“But what if it is real, daddy? What if the bombs turn into real bombs and get us?” I asked.
“I’ll never let anything get you, Jacqueline, I promise,” he said. “You are always safe with me.”
I wasn’t an easy kid, and I often remember my dad looking at me in the middle of one of my frequent raging temper tantrums as though I was actual alien from outer space. In comparison to sweet Jennifer and adorable Elizabeth, I kind of was.
But he never wavered. I never remember him saying that I was too much to handle, though he probably felt that way more often than not. My dad never let it show. He took my pain in the ass ass everywhere. road trips to big bear and mammoth and Hawaii and Oregon, as well as the time he even braved taking me by himself to Epcot center in Florida and then to the Bahamas. Without incident!
When I was 18, my drug addiction and alcoholism did make me somewhat of an alien. I was painfully skinny and strung out, and I lived in a self-imposed prison in a dark faraway place that practically no one could reach.
I don’t remember much about these years, which sucks because I’m currently writing a book about them so I guess that’s going to be tough.
But I do remember my dad.
I remember him showing up to the house I refused to come out of, right up the street here, where I was doing terrifying things to myself. He would call me on the phone and stay on with me for hours every day while he drove around and around the block, also refusing to leave.
“Let me take you to lunch, princess. We can talk this out,” he’d say. “You don’t have to live this way.”
And when I’d lie, and tell him I was fine when really I was dying, or that I didn’t need him or his concern or his love, my dad refused to waver then as well.
He’d come back the next day, and the day after that, and so on. While many people in my life looked away from the destruction that had become my life, my dad stared it and me and death right in the eye and prepared for battle. He fought tirelessly for me by simply showing up and letting me know he was there. My dad knew that showing me this kind of support would eventually remind me of what addiction had caused me to forget. That I was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a loved human being who deserved to live. And it did just that.
When I finally raised my white flag in the war against my addiction (both times), my dad was right there, waiting, with that famous big proud smile on his face.
“I’ll never let anything get you, Jacqueline, I promise,” I felt it say. “You are always safe with me.”
Jerry always kept his word.
Years later, well into my sobriety, I went to dinner with my dad at the mermaid. Of course, I had to drive him home in his car because Jerry definitely wasn’t sober after any time spent at the mermaid. We got to the park across the street from his house and he told me to pull over for a second so he could get something out of the trunk. He came around the car a few minutes later with a plastic grocery bag and headed straight over to a woman who was sleeping in the grass, and laid the bag down next to her.
“Picking up on homeless women now dad?” I joked when he came back to the car.
He told me that the woman’s name was Anna, and that she sometimes slept in the park and that he frequently left her care packages full of snacks and water and toiletries. He laughed and said that sometimes she accepted them and sometimes she told him to go away. He had a huge smile on his face while he told me.
I told him I was surprised. I had no idea he was just out there helping random homeless people. I joked that he was leading a double life.
“They aren’t “random people,” he said. “Sometimes people make poor choices or are just down on their luck. Its always best to show them kindness, to not judge them-to just give them a chance or hope or whatever you have,” he said. And then,
“I learned that from you, princess. My special girl.”
My story of addiction does not sum up my life, any more than my dad loving me through it and out of it provides the sum total of the relationship I shared with him. He loved me and was proud of me through every single second of my existence. From my temper tantrums as a child, to my struggles as a student in school, to that one time I decided to start dressing like a boy and asking people to call me bobby, to when I finally grew out of that phase and started dating actual boys and even when I started dating girls who looked a lot like boys. Every marathon I ran, every triathlon I struggled through, or piece of writing I got published, every time I decided to attend college, or when I randomly decided I was going to try to be a firefighter at age 32, my dad was there. No dream was impossible for one of Jerry’s girls to accomplish. He never once told me what an asshole I’d been (and trust me, to him, I was an exceptional asshole), or how hard I’d made things, or how much I’d scared him during my “wilderness years.” All I ever heard from him was how proud he was of me, and how grateful he was to be my dad and later, for my choice to live my life instead of throwing it away. And that he knew I was on my way to doing big things, even when I couldn’t see it.
I left about 4 years ago to move away from him and our family and our little beach town to a big city where I didn’t know a soul, to start working at a job I had zero experience in. I was going to do big things, and I should have been scared, and I was, a little. But mostly I felt excited for a new adventure and I knew that my dad would be there to provide encouragement every step of the way. The kind of security he gave me throughout my life was so steadfast and true that it gave me the freedom to soak in and appreciate every beautiful second of the new life I was creating. My dad’s love made me brave enough to live, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
When my dad was diagnosed with stage 4-lung cancer in September, it was me who felt like I couldn’t breathe. When the doctors told us that he had a year left to live, but that some treatments might give him extra time, my dad took that as a new lease on life. I called him later that afternoon from New York, expecting to have a tough and tearful conversation in which he would reveal that the majority of his wealth was specifically being left to me, his special girl.
But nooo, all jerry could talk about was how excited he was to start treatment and get back on his Harley.
“At this rate, I’ll be partying well into my 80’s. Don’t worry, princess, your old dad is going to be just fine.”
And I believed him. Believing that my dad was going to be just fine was just second nature. I think we can all agree that Jerry had 900 lives, as well as 900 broken bones to show for it. There was no way something as stupid as a little lung cancer could take this guy out.
And if I’m being honest, I just couldn’t fathom a world without him in it. As time went on and we all realized that our dad really was sick, that life really was short, that no matter how much you love someone they can still leave this earth and you’ll still be left spinning around on it without them, and cliché after cliché after cliché, I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing him.
So I made a plan to come be with him and soak up every moment, to tell him all the things I should have, and to ask him all the questions I needed his answers to in order to, I don’t know, be okay without him here, which feels impossible now.
I made a list of these questions, of course.
What are your biggest regrets?
Which wife made you the happiest?
When was the time you felt most successful?
How do will I know when I am really in love?
What are the big things I’m supposed to do, and how exactly should I start doing them?
What is your biggest fear?
Where do you think we go when we die?
Are you afraid of dying? Should I be afraid of you dying?
What really IS the most important thing in life?
But I didn’t get a chance to ask him these questions, even though I was so close. I was one day late, driving across the country toward him and his answers and his huge heart and his endless love. The last thing my dad said to me as we hung up a Facetime call the afternoon before he died (right after he told me a riveting story about the photo of a ½ naked woman sitting on his Harley that served as his computer’s screensaver) was “Well, Jacqueline, I miss you so much and I sure cant wait to see you. I love you.”
Dad, I miss you too, and I’m so sorry that I missed you. But I don’t regret one single moment spent on this earth as your daughter.
I’m so grateful for all the days you gave to me, and for the ability to find the answers to these questions myself by living and loving the way you did.
Thank you dad, for giving me this big beautiful life, and for making all of the seconds in it matter. Thank you for every sunset, and cocktail, and lesson, and every single front row Willie nelson concert. Thank you for always loving everything with reckless abandon, and for loving me back into existence. Thank you for always being proud. I am me because of you, and today, there’s no one else I’d rather be. Thank you for all of it.