This I Believe

Carol - Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Entered on November 18, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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This I Believe

I don’t believe in ghosts, or in Jesus-sightings on potato chips or Amish barns. I’m not sure about angels; I’d like to believe in them, they seem so comforting. But this I do believe: Those we love continue to guide us, if we’ll listen, even after their deaths.

My dad was an electrical engineer. He sported pocket protectors and skinny ties, and owned an enormous slide rule collection. I arrived eleven months after my parents’ 1956 wedding. From an early age, I watched wide-eyed as my dad dismantled cameras and reassembled them, just for the challenge. I stood breathless as images of my baby sister and me would magically emerge from blank paper in Dad’s makeshift darkroom. I shivered from cold and excitement while he pointed his huge homemade telescope at the planets. ( I was certain he was an astronaut, accidentally left off every 1960’s Gemini launch by some silly clerical error.)

Dad built a powerful radio so that he could listen to New York talk shows and jazz stations on sweltering North Carolina nights. Live opera from the Met was our weekend background music. My dad devoured science fiction, clever word plays, and impossible math problems. He owned a calculator and surfed the Net years before the general public knew that either one existed. I mastered chess and perfected my archery skills under his quiet tutelage. He was my handsome, brilliant, nerd-hero father. He taught me to thirst for knowledge, and to always ask a million questions.

Like my parents, I married quite young. My husband and I raised three intellectually curious children of our own. And, wonderful father that he was (and is), my husband encouraged and supported their every endeavor. Sadly, my own similarly exuberant, inquisitive nature was not an easy fit for him. Over the years I quietly declined professional and personal challenges to avoid conflict.

My dad and I grew apart, bit by bit, over time. I had transformed into someone he didn’t quite recognize. Then, in an instant, I almost lost Dad. A massive heart attack at age 59 left him weakened by congestive heart failure. I began spending more time with him, this time as his caretaker. I started to reflect on how positively and profoundly his life had shaped mine, and grew ashamed of how I’d slowly become someone who didn’t think or act like him at all. My dad died on a rainy Monday, five years after his first heart attack.

Eventually I divorced. I accepted a challenging job, and mastered a second language. I hiked waterfalls, sang with a symphony orchestra, and pursued a graduate degree. On the brink of turning fifty, I heeded my father’s voice, and became his daughter once again. I proudly took back my maiden name, my dad’s surname. Now every time someone calls me by my “reclaimed” name, I know Dad is smiling. I continue to hear him, telling me to thirst for knowledge, and always, always ask a million questions.