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Happy birthday, Harry O.

Today's my dad's birthday. He would be 99. Isn't that crazy? We would have had a big party. And he would laugh and tell inappropriate jokes and probably offend somebody. I'd offer him a drink, and he would ask for Turkey 101, which I kept a bottle of just for him. He wanted to live to be 106 to break the record of his oldest living relative because he was competitive as F$%K.

I miss him.

Some days more than others but really a lot today. He was such a character. When I was a little girl, he traveled frequently and brought me t-shirts from wherever he went. My favorite was from the Playboy Club. I had no idea what that place was or what the bunny symbolized. I doubt that my mother did either because she let me wear it every week--only once a week though--to kindergarten. I loved it so much that even after my mom bleached it until the sleeves were lavender instead of black and parts of the bunny were falling off, I still wore it. And picked at the bunny's ears.

He also bought me Pete Rose and Johnny Bench jerseys, which I loved almost as much.

I used to get migraines when I was little--4 or 5 I think because I still slept on a cot in the hallway, since there wasn't room for a 7th kid in our 4-bedroom house. My dad took a course in hypnosis to try to help me. He even made a tape of himself that I could listen to if I got them while he was out of town. I don't remember if it helped, but it was so dear.

When my brother came home from his last day of 6th grade with his friends' autographs all over his shirt, I was sad about being homeschooled and not having friends to sign my shirt. That goofball signed numerous crazy versions of Harry O. Swan on it. It wasn't the same, and it made me mad at the time because he ruined my shirt. But now he was so desperate to make me feel better ... it makes my heart ache a bit.

He used to take me to baseball games at the old Cleveland stadium when the Indians sucked, and you could sit wherever you wanted. We walked to Mollenkoph stadium to watch Harding football games, and stayed til just after halftime because the majorettes were my favorite part. But then we had to go home because my mom got nervous if we were out too late "on foot."

When I was in 7th grade, he retired. I was still homeschooled at the time, and we started watching soap operas together...As the World Turns and Guiding Light. The next year, when I went to public school, he would tell me everything that happened with the characters. He did this for years.

I loved the band INXS, mostly the beautiful lead singer, Michael Hutchence, who died tragically young. In the early days of MTv, my dad would watch all day when I was at school, thumb poised over the remote, to record their videos for me. I probably still have a vhs tape somewhere with Need You Tonight on it.

He saw the world in an interesting way and cracked me up with his observations. Once, noting my mom's affection for Brad, he mused, "I think your mom might like your husband more than you do." He also gave me random advice on how to "take care" of Brad, which usually prompted me to leave the room, and Brad to squirm out of the conversation saying, "I'm good. She's good. We're good." Good grief.

My dad wasn't perfect by any means, but I think the most important thing you can do for your kids is to make them feel loved. He made a lot of mistakes, but I knew he loved me. Oprah always says we all need the same things..."Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter?" I knew that I mattered to him. And he adored my kids in a way that absolutely astounded me.

I read a book recently called Lost & Found by Brooke Davis. It is a quirky, charming and bittersweet novel, but at the end was a short essay by the author, who lost her mother in a tragic accident. She writes: I am beginning to understand that grief is now, simply, a part of everything I do, everything I say, everything I write. Everything I am.

For awhile after my dad died, I was so busy being grateful for the peaceful way he died at such an old age that I didn't let myself be sad that he was, in fact, dead. But as that author points out, when you lose someone you love, you have to kind of "relearn the world" without them in it.

I'm still doing that. I still have things to tell him. Some days, I wish that I could walk into that Porter Street house--which may or may not be a meth lab now--and roll my eyes and correct him when he called me by my sister's name. I'd love to climb into his lap and rub my thumbs into the indentations his thumbnails wore into the wooden arm of his chair.

We could sit for a long time and not say anything. Then he would gasp as if he had the most important news in the world and say, "You know what happens?!?"

"Shit," I would respond.

"You got it," he would chuckle.

Happy birthday, Dad. I wish we could have a room temperature beer and watch The Price is Right, but Chloe and I will drink mojitos in your honor. I love you and miss you. Every. Damn. Day.


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