My father passed away Monday morning. Having suffered through chemo and radiation treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a very aggressive cancer, he died of heart failure. I am finally crying for the first time today. I feel relief for him, and hope that he has found peace.

He was my inspiration. A physicist with premature grey and then white hair, it was rather like being raised by Einstein. So, when my four sisters and I learned that our father had passed, we compiled this list of the odd, quirky and fun things he did. These are the things that we remember about our father.


I waited each night for Dad to come home, he’d always greet me at the driveway.

Dad modeled parenting skills that I use today – spend time with your kids –if it works, use it and have fun, who cares what it looks like.

Dad ran with me in his business clothes during one cross-country practice when I needed encouragement.

In his funny voice, he’d mimic Mary’s basketball coach “Pass the ball harder next time.” The next pass smacked into the wall and he would crack up echoing the coach “not that hard.” He was so proud of Mary.

He waited in rollercoaster lines for hours. He would talk about physics and I had no idea what he was talking about, but somehow it didn’t matter.

Dad did donuts in parking lots on snowy days when mom wasn’t in the car.

He took us fishing at midnight because that is when the fish were biting.

Dad cut the top off a tree in the front lawn for use as our Christmas tree. There in the front lawn was the stub of a pine tree. The neighbors immaculately trimmed lawns adjacent. He then stuffed the whole Christmas tree in the fireplace and Mom screamed “Louis” while flames engulfed the mantle.

He calculated the cost of heating fuel required to heat a bedroom closet that was left open.

Dad made an entire set of Lincoln Logs, in the basement. He made some lengths that couldn’t be purchased. I literally had the best set.

Dad made new wooden doll beds for us one Christmas on his lathe. He stayed up all night building them.

He played Nertz, spades and other card games with us for hours on the living room rug. He never seemed to get bored playing games.

Dad took me to chess club with him on Friday nights.

He made us bike helmets out of hockey helmets — I was so embarrassed by them as a child.
Dad calibrated the cadence of each of our bikes gears and glued cards with the numbers on our bikes, so that we knew which gear to shift in when he told us to shift.

He took us on 20-mile bike rides until we were exhausted and he had to bike home to get the car and haul our bikes and us home.

Dad ate my horrible cooking while I was learning how to cook. I believed for years that he liked burned food.

Dad said some things that brought me through tough times. 1) If you work as hard at getting a job as you would at the job, then you will get a job. 2) Keep 6 months of bill money in the bank. – that one saved my bacon a few times.

Dad prayed when it got tough.

In loving memory of my father. May his soul find peace and comfort.


Please send your own Dadisms. I’d love to read them.

Developing characters through experience

Yesterday, after I went for a morning swim, I locked my keys in the car, followed by a comedy of events that made me an hour late for work. After getting grease and dirt on the front of my new white, wool pant suit while trying to find the magnetized set of keys that I keep under the car, I drove onto Interstate 440 going the wrong way. (The interstate is not known as the baffling beltline for nothing). Signs are labeled inner and outer beltline, north or south, which doesn’t help me to know which will take me east to Durham. So I pulled off 440 and got back on only to be funneled in the same wrong direction away from Durham. I took the next exit trying for an alternate route on 70, but instead got lost in Durham. But that’s not the reason that I added this category to my blog (Life Comes at me Hard).

Yesterday, life slammed me hard. Wham! Right into my past. I haven’t seen my father in ten years. During that time I’ve talked with him only twice on the phone, once two months ago and once yesterday. When people ask me if I’m close to my father, I say no. I never expand upon that unless someone asks. Usually they don’t, and when they do I almost never tell the whole truth. It has taken me years of therapy to reach the level of denial I thought I had achieved. See my essay: Yes I Have a Therapist–and I Believe Everyone Should.

I thought I had worked through my sadness and anger toward my father. I didn’t think I had any feelings for him left. Then I got the following e-mail from my aunt, my father’s sister.

I just talked with him (my father) on the phone. He does not have email because he is not able to use it. He has a walker with a seat on it and a wheel chair. He went to the doctor again. The doctor said the radiation killed 20% of his nerves. He is like a very old man. He has not been out of the house for 2 months. They simply cannot get him into the car. He is very helpless. He sleeps in his chair. He would like to hear from you girls. He says he can’t get well unless God heals him.


After reading the e-mail I found myself crying while driving to the swimming pool. Hence my confusion while driving around in circles after swimming. My father has recovered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But after the tumors were removed from his spine and he endured the chemo and radiation that was necessary to treat the cancer, his muscles have atrophied from lack of use.

I pictured my father, the man who raised me, the man who abused me, now in a wheel chair unable to leave the house. Maybe he deserved it. Be he was also the man who took me on 30 mile bike rides as a little girl, who played endless card games with my sisters and me, never tiring of our games, who played softball with us in our backyard. That active, energetic, youthful man was sleeping in a wheelchair.


That blast from the past could be the key to my writing success. As a writer I can use my bad relationship with my father to develop the new women characters that I create. Because girls model our male romantic ideal on our relationship with our father, he teaches us how we should expect to be treated by males when we get older. He teaches us by the way he speaks and acts toward us and the women in his life. It is from our fathers that girls learn lessons about the world of males. From her father a woman gains first-hand knowledge of how ordinary men think, act and speak.

Fiction writers must create imperfect, flawed characters because that is the way people are.

Most of the women characters I relate to in the books that I love to read are flawed, like myself, many due to their childhoods. In David Baldacci’s Simple Genius the lead female’s personality changed due to an event from her childhood. I can’t spoil the book to say what it was. In Kathy Reich’s series of books that the TV show Bones is based on, the lead character, Tempe, is a divorced recovering alcoholic who has trouble with relationships.

So, I can create a woman character who does not have a loving dependable father. This imaginary person may actually seek men who deny her needs or reject her. She may always be haunted by the thought that she is unlovable. To compensate, she may become sexually active prematurely or she may fear intimacy. She will be imperfect and readers will be able to empathize with her.

When she drives onto the baffling beltline going the wrong direction, or locks her keys in her car because her sick father is on her mind, readers will believe in her. When she looks in her rearview window, readers may see themselves.