My earliest memory of my dad is of him breezing in at the end of a day's work from Traveler's Insurance Company, dressed in a dark suit and tie and smelling of Old Spice After Shave Lotion. I also vividly remember sitting sideways on his lap while he talked to me in Mandarin Chinese or sang a few bars (in his tenor voice) of "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" or "Danny Boy". Dad was a soft-hearted, soft-spoken, intelligent, funny, 6'1/2" wonderful man who was proud of his English/Irish heritage, his Pittsburgh, PA roots, and his "legs like a racehorse".
I was fascinated at an early age by my dad's name: Henry Franklin Dannals Nelson Wright. What a name! He was named after a maternal uncle, Henry (Harry) Franklin Dannals, then his mother threw in the third middle name, Nelson, for good measure, and to ensure that posterity remembered the most-likely claim that they were direct descendants of Lord Horatio Nelson, the 18th-century English Admiral. Dad signed his name "Henry F. Wright" (with his signature curly "F"), but everyone knew him throughout his life as Harry, or "Big Hare".
Some of my random, snapshot-like memories of my dad include:
*He usually wore golf pants and shirts when he was dressed casually. His pants, especially, were in loud colors: firetruck red, grass green, turquoise, or bright yellow, with an occasional shade of khaki out of deference. His closet was a literal rainbow of golf pants. I don't think he ever owned a pair of jeans. Plaid Bermuda shorts, most definitely, but never jeans. He loved to buy his suits at Silverwoods For Men, or later, at Nordstrom, and carefully chose ties that would complement the patterns in his suit fabrics. Dad loved clothes and was careful about his appearance.
*I never remember Dad cooking anything in the kitchen, except for on a rare Saturday when he would "fry hot dogs" by splitting them down the middle and frying them open-faced. He would put the open hot dog bun alongside in the pan, and grill it, then top his dogs with sauerkraut and mustard. I ate mine this way, too, even at age seven, just to be like my dad. Dad was a competent bread-winner for our little family, but I don't believe he ever did any physical work, or chores, around our home. My organized, strong, and particular mom took care of everything inside and outside of the house. Looking back, that's hard to believe, but somehow it worked for them.
*Dad worked hard all week long, and then enjoyed his TV time in the evenings and on the weekends. I remember watching many episodes of "The Big Valley" or "Murder She Wrote" together, and Saturday afternoons were usually dedicated to Pittsburgh Steelers / Los Angeles Dodgers games or PGA Golf tournaments, after he himself had been "on the links" early that morning with his foursome. Mom and Dad loved to watch "anything English" on PBS, too. Dad enjoyed sitting on the back patio with a glass of iced coffee, listening to the birds sing, and "communing with nature". And, lucky for us, he was always game to go out for breakfast or a nice dinner.
*As a little girl, I remember running to Dad's bedroom closet to get his navy corduroy slippers for him when he got home from work. He would stretch his long legs out in front of him, and I would do the honors of changing his footwear from day to evening. He really loved this, and I loved it that he loved it.
*I always was HUNGRY to know details about the Wright / Dannals side of my family. I never met any of his relatives in person (until my wedding weekend), and desperately wanted to know about the "other half of me". Because of a somewhat sad and neglectful childhood, Dad kept most of his early memories to himself, but every now and then he'd divulge a little pearl of a story. I filed these away in my memory, though many blank spots remained.
*As an older teenager, I worked at my dad's company in Burbank, CA in the summers as one of the switchboard operators. I loved this job, mainly because the elevator opened all day long right in front of our long desk, and I would catch glimpses of Dad emerging from the elevator with a variety of people. I soon realized that Dad was JUST THE SAME with Sam the company janitor as he was with Joe the in-house CEO. This became a model for me to try to live up to, one I still think about and try to honor.
*When I brought my handsome tennis date (later to be husband) home to meet my parents, I remember Dad giving me an exaggerated "two-thumbs-up!" behind my date's back. This began a warm ten-year relationship between my dad and my husband, up until Dad had his debilitating stroke on September 11, (our own 9/11) 1996. After that, visits were a bit one-sided, but my husband continued to have a soft spot in his heart for my father.
*On the morning of my wedding, I came out into the family room to find Dad in his terry-cloth robe standing in the middle of the room, staring pensively off into space while Anne Murray crooned "I'll Be Seeing You", and then "Can I Have This Dance?" Dad LOVED Anne Murray. He told me that day that it was one of the happiest days of his life.
*Our oldest daughter had a special relationship with Dad. They would snuggle up next to each other on the couch to read or watch TV together, and Dad would gently tease Claire. She would giggle and always answer, "Oh, Papa!" Dad was more affectionate with our daughter than he ever was with me, but that was okay. I loved it that they enjoyed their own special bond.
*My mother was the best thing that ever happened to my dad. Having grown up in a difficult home environment, Mom gave Dad a real fighting chance at having a healthy family life. She stuck with him through his years of alcoholism and his several-pack-a-day cigarette habit, both of which he quit "cold turkey" when I was a young teenager. She kept a beautiful, clean home, kept Dad's clothes clean and pressed, cooked healthy meals for him, and just generally supported him from the home front so that he could enjoy the successes that he did in the surety bond business and elsewhere. I think Dad would've agreed that his secret weapon was most certainly his wife.
And then, when his years of physical addictions caught up with him, Dad had a major stroke while at the office, and instantaneously went from bidding jobs and meeting with contractors to laying in a bed, paralyzed on one side and without the ability to speak. He remained there for the next 15 years of his life. My mom selflessly cared for him at home with the help of nurses, dedicating her whole life to keeping him as happy and comfortable and clean as possible. She left nothing undone for Dad all of those years, and has said that she actually grew to love him even more deeply than she did before. I am positive that they will have a joyful reunion on the other side some day, when Dad will be able to finally vocalize his thanks and devotion to Mom for all of her years of service to him, from the beginnings of their 50-year marriage until Dad's final hours.
"Legacy" has been defined as: "anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or a predecessor". I have contemplated what my father's legacy to me, and to his granddaughters, might be. Three facets come to mind:
1. LOVE OF WORDS: Dad was a very literate man. He was educated in History and Far-Eastern Affairs at University of Pittsburgh, was very well-read, devoured the morning newspaper and worked crossword puzzles for fun. He had neat and precise cursive handwriting, and to him, words were interesting and funny. He relished in finding just the right words to describe something. When he did, he'd often repeat his clever phrases over and over for days, just to get a laugh out of "his girls". Dad was a gifted conversationalist, especially in a one-on-one setting. He had a wide vocabulary, and expressed himself well. He also excelled at learning Mandarin Chinese at the Army Language School in the 1950s during the Korean War.
2. LOVE OF PEOPLE: As evidenced by the little story of Sam the janitor (above), Dad enjoyed all people no matter what their station in life. I remember when Garth Brooks' song "Friends in Low Places" was released, Dad used to chuckle about that being "his song". (Mom would roll her eyes.) This was interesting to me because I would have described Dad as an "elegant, cultured" man, but he really didn't see himself that way. Which, I guess, was part of his charm. Dad would "work the room" at parties (per my mother), slowly moving from group to group, patting people on the back, shaking hands, asking them about themselves, and quickly connecting with them. In larger conversation groups, Dad would tend to sit back quietly with a grin on his face, and just absorb all of the goings-on, then throw in an occasional, perfectly-worded, funny or insightful comment. No matter what my age, my friends, both girls and boys, loved my dad. After his stroke, people "came out of the woodwork" to let my mother know what a difference he had made in their lives, most often as a GOOD LISTENER and DEVOTED FRIEND.
3. LOVE FOR ME: Though Dad wasn't particularly demonstrative with me (in word or action), I always knew he loved me. He was rarely critical of me, and I can't really ever remember him disciplining me. He would take me out on Saturday morning "secrets" as a little girl, which usually meant sitting together at the counter at Howard-Johnson's and ordering Cokes in a cow-shaped mugs. Sometimes, on special days, we'd go to my school playground where I would demonstrate my latest acrobatics on the bars or basketball moves or hopscotch tricks. Sometimes I would be his "ball girl" on the school field behind our house, and would chase down his golf balls for him. It didn't really matter what we did ... just being together was the point.
The biggest evidences of Dad's love for me came especially on two days in my near-adulthood life. On the afternoon I was baptised into the LDS Church (at age 19), Dad was there leaning against the back wall and through eye contact and a big smile and little nods of his head, let me know that he supported me in my decision. Then, on the day my husband and I were married in the Los Angeles LDS Temple, he uncomplainingly waited outside with my mom while his only child was married inside. As my new husband and I emerged from the temple, I burst into tears (see photo above) when I saw my dad, the only time I cried on our wedding day. In Dad's quiet and supportive way, he allowed and even encouraged me to choose and follow my own path. All that he required was that I give everything to whatever I embraced. I will be forever grateful for that, and have tried to live my life as a tribute to his confidence in me.
As my larger-than-life father slowly withered away over the last decade-and-a-half, I have grown increasingly grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my sure knowledge that Dad's impaired physical body would soon be shed for good, and that his spirit (with all its optimum capacities) will move joyfully forward, awaiting resurrection, into his next phase of existence. Dad finally gave up the fight on July 20, 2011, and the world and I will never be the same.
I often picture my dad moving, dancing, talking, laughing, and singing where he is now, and this thrills me. My own challenges become overseeing Dad's temple work so that he will have the opportunity to accept the fullness of the Gospel, and living the best life I can so that I can rejoin him in heaven someday.
I read the following little analogy at my Grandpa Doc's funeral years ago, and I still love it and am comforted by the sentiment, even the veiled doctrine, that it expresses:
"We are standing on a shore. A large sailing ship is about to pull out. Friends and relatives of ours are standing on the deck above, waving goodbye, throwing streamers, calling to us, calling our names. And we call to them and to each other: "Look, there's Grandpa...there's Uncle Joe...there's Dad!" A bell sounds. The ship begins to move away.
"We stand silently, even sadly, for a very long time and watch as the ship sails further and further away until, finally, the mast is just a vertical pencil line on the horizon. Then it, too, goes down, until we can no longer see it. And we gasp and cry, "Oh...he's gone."
"But gone from where? Gone from our sight, that's all.
"For at the very moment we gasp, "Oh, he's gone!", another on another shore is jumping up and down, laughing and yelling and pointing excitedly out to sea crying, 'Look! There's Grandpa! There's Uncle Joe! There's Dad!'
"Their ships have truly gone home. There is another shore, another dimension in which they have already begun to live."
Dad, I miss you. I miss our Monday evening (while Mom was at work) phone calls, where you would ask all the right questions about my life. I miss your smile and your chuckle and your compliments. I am grateful that you are my dad, that we have the chance to be a family forever, and I can't wait to see you again. Imagine, you will be able to run to me, and to call me "Mace", and sing to me again! This time, though, I will ask YOU all the questions: "What were you thinking about during those long years when you couldn't walk or speak??" - "What do you think of your beautiful granddaughters?" - "Can you believe the depth of love and service that Mom happily gave to you all those years?" - "What do you think the purpose was for your long physical struggle?" - "Isn't it great to be together again???" - "Dad, are you proud of me?"
I love you, Dad. And I'll be seeing you.