Last night I had dinner with my new friend Rachel. Another Daddy's Girl. We talked about how much we both loved our dads. Adored them, really. Still do. How present they are in both of our lives, even though they have been gone for so long.
But there was one difference between our relationships with our fathers. Her dad died -- suddenly, instantaneously -- when she was twelve years old. So she never got to say good bye, as I did. Never got to tell him how much she loved him, just one more time. Never got to promise him all the ways she would keep him in her heart for the rest of her life. He has been gone for 42 years. She never got to see him grow old. He never got to see her grow up. My dad has been gone now for almost 25 years, but I got to do all those things. And so much more. . .
I had written another, much longer, Father's Day blog before we had dinner. But when I got home last night, I realized what I really wanted to say.
I have been following in my father's footsteps for a number of years now. Going to horror conventions, meeting fans, creating events and republishing books to honor his legacy. For this, I've been honored and applauded by the fans. But I've also been chastised and criticized by people who think I keep my father's legacy alive simply because I am following his fame. He was just an actor, they say. And a horror actor. Why do you keep talking and writing about him? What makes him was so special?
You know, my dad would be the first person to say he was just an actor. A horror actor. So, what makes him so special? Oh, I could go on and on -- and often do -- about my dad the horror actor's immense generosity of spirit, the consistent lovingkindness with which he moved through the world, his glorious capacity for joy. But what really makes him so special? That's an easy answer. Love. I loved him and he loved me. That's all. And that is more than enough.
I am an intensely private person, a natural introvert, a happy hermit. I love the quiet private life I have mostly chosen. So I don't go out into the world to share my father's legacy because I want the world's attention. Because I am holding on for dear life to the coattails of his fame to make me feel better about who I am. In my "real life", I don't ever go to parties or really anything that involves huge crowds (except sporting events), so horror conventions are a big stretch for me , especially since I don't even like scary stuff! I also don't like to see photos of myself -- so it is a huge leap for me to have my photo taken over and over again with people. But totally paradoxically, I love every minute of it. Why? Because it keeps this man I loved so much alive -- not just for me, his daughter, but for all of the other people who love him.
In other words, there are two very simple reasons that I have spent so much of my life honoring my dad's legacy: Because I love him, and because I CAN!
Unlike Rachel, I got to spend the end of his very long life with my dad. We got to talk about everything that mattered most to us both for two and a half years. We got to say everything we wanted to say to one another. And we got to say goodbye. Rachel would give anything to have been able to have ten minutes of the time I had with my dad. Just as she would love to be able to share the father she loved so dearly with the whole wide world. She would love to be able to do all of the things I got to do and still get to do with and for my dad.
Yesterday, my best friend, Pamela, attended her father's memorial in Wisconsin. She was a Daddy's Girl, too. Because I couldn't be there to support her, I have kept her father's obituary up on my laptop the whole time she has been with her family. I read it from time to time, and yesterday, when she texted me a picture of his memorial program, I looked deeply at the photo of Earl the Squirrel Thompson and held him and her in my heart in such deep love. It was a small way of honoring him and loving her.
I never met Earl Thompson in person. But as I was reading his obituary, I suddenly realized that I already knew most of what I read. And lots of things I didn't read. I knew about the candies he brought home from her in his pockets. I knew what a huge bright light he was to her growing up.
In his obituary, I read, "Earl was incredibly funny and lighthearted, performing characters and singing humorous versions of popular songs while he made breakfast for his four children. Although Earl was not big in size, he was a giant of a man who excelled in everything that matters. The life Earl lived was not an easy life, but he was always quick with a joke and a welcoming smile and had a remarkable quality of having a big heart and a desire to care about and help others." But I already knew all of those things. How? Because I have known and loved his daughter for twelve years and she, too, is incredibly funny and lighthearted, performing characters and singing humorous versions of popular songs while we take our walks together. She is always quick with a joke and a welcoming smile and has the remarkable quality of having a huge huge heart and an endless desire to care about and help others. I know who Earl the Squirrel Thompson was, because the best of him still lives on in his daughter and my best friend.
Last night at dinner, Rachel showed me her favorite photo of her with her father, taken the year before he died. She said, "Now that I am in my fifties, I look in the mirror and I see him as much as I see me." When she described her father, his beautiful singing voice, the way he was always there for her and for his friends, his larger-than-life spirit as he moved through the world, it seemed to me that she was describing herself.
People often tell me how much I look like my dad. Although no woman really aspires to look like their father, I know they mean it in the sweetest of ways. And the greatest compliment anyone can give me is to tell me how much I am like him. Because I know that if I am the tiniest bit as generous with my heart as he was to everyone he met, then I will be on my way to becoming the loving person I hope to be in the world.
This Father's Day blog, then, is one part Thank You. To all of the horror and classic movie fans out there who love my dad so much that they invite me to share that love with them. I am so fortunate! I will never take for granted my connections with so many people around the world who love my dad and keep him alive in their own hearts -- and living rooms and movie theatres and art work and even tattoos).
But the other part, the bigger part of this Father's Day blog is for my friends, old and new, who are remembering their own fathers on this Father's Day, and any of you reading whose dads are not with you today.
Some of us have the immense good fortune of sharing our fathers with others. My high school friend Moya's stepfather died this week, and the whole world mourned. Moya and her family even had a respite from the deep grief when she got to be with thousands of people who loved him by honoring her stepdad in the most wonderful of ways in front of Los Angeles City Hall. To share those we love with others who love them is always healing.
But so many other people don't have that opportunity. Yet, famous or not, I believe they do. We all do. Because all of us, every single one of us -- whether our father's were famous or not -- carry the best of those we love inside us.
My dear dear friend Karen has taught me one of the most important lessons of my recent life. A lesson that has changed me in the all of the best ways. When we first met, one of the first things Karen told me was that her father taught her that balance was the most important thing in life. I didn't really know what she meant, to tell you the truth, but it sounded good. And then I got to know Karen, and the more I got to know her, the more I felt what it was like to be around someone who is balanced. Whose life is not a roller coaster of drama. Whose highs and lows don't toss her off a cliff or send her to the moon. That felt amazing, frankly, and I realized that wanted to be more balanced in my own life. If there has been one change over the past year of my life that makes me love myself and my own life more, it is that now I am finding more balance. Karen's father has been gone for decades now, but now he lives on not only in her, but also in me. In this new balance that makes me go out into the world with more love and lovingkindness.
In fact, you see, all of us, every single one of us, get to share the loving legacies of our fathers. We share them simply by living them. We carry them with us in our hearts, and we live the best of them in our lives.
Today, Father's Day, I will be spending in my father's favorite place in the whole wide world. An art gallery. I will be giving a gallery talk about my first ever art show. I love art because my dad did. I have spent my whole life in the arts, because I wanted to love what my dad did.
The show is called Learning to See: Postcards from the Road, 2011 - 2017. Even the idea is inspired by my dad, who wrote me postcards from all the places he traveled all over the world. The last piece in the show is literally a postcard to him. Inside the image, I wrote to my dad. When we hung my photographs, I also wrote on the walls of the show. The show ends with this image and a love letter to my dad.
But now I see that, in fact, my whole life is a love letter to my dad. And my mom. And all of my dearest friends and family members (and even dogs and horses) who are no longer here. But the ripples of this circle of Love extend, I see now even to the parents and friends and loved ones of the people I love, whom they have shared with me. It is all one big pond of Love, you see. This living legacy. When we carry those we love in our hearts, they live on and ripple out -- through us and out to and through everyone we meet.
That is the greatest gift of life, I believe: Living forward our legacy of love. Not only this Father's Day, but every day.
May we all keep living forward our legacies of Love.