Your smell reminds me of home. I don't remember when I first encountered it, or placed a photograph of you in my mind when it happened, but it makes me nostalgic when I smell you on my sweaters that I hugged you in. When I smell your scent, all I can remember is the love you have given me since I was a child, with your strength and resilience to overcome my obstacles.
You may not know this, Dad, but I read the letter in my medical folder. The one that is tattered and worn, the one in which I cried to when I first read it as I waited for the doctor 18 years later. It had my diagnosis of my complex heart problem and a request from the Chaplin to keep you ashore "to be there for your baby." I wasn't even a year old yet, and you and Mom fought for my well-being. You were there for your baby, and you always have been. Do you remember that letter, Dad? I hadn't realized it then, but you loved me in your arms when you could hold me, and your hands clutched mine when I was frail in bed after surgeries. I still remember waking up to you when I was a toddler in the intensive care unit after surgery. You spoke those infamous words I've heard from you so many times in my life, but never tire of, "How are you feeling, sport?"
You said those same words when I woke after my last suicide attempt, and I'm sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to hurt you or Mom. I know after the first time, you were angry with me, and I should have learned that you loved me so much then, but I was stupid, Dad. I can't imagine how terrified you were when you found me delirious after downing those pills, and calling you from the community pool. I don't even remember how I pulled myself out of that creek, around those tennis courts, and down that steep hill into a place where I could call you from. I don't even remember how I was able to recall your cellphone number, but I know I called you Dad, because I think in my subconscious I knew you have always saved me. I know you drove 90 miles per hour to the hospital, and I know you were scared, and I'm so sorry that I almost made you lose your only daughter. I know you were at my bedside until I woke up, just like every other time, and you said those words again, with more concern. I was asleep almost 24 hours after all.
I'm so sorry that after each time you showed me how to do something, with one step of patience and laughter I still thought you didn't love me. I know after my first suicide attempt your heart softened and you kept a watchful eye on me. I know at first you were so angry at me that you could barely look me in the eyes. I know it was because you were hurt because after all you had fought to save me, I tried to sacrifice myself for selfish reasons. I realized that after my first attempt when you would sometimes come up to me as we talked and put your arm around my shoulder, pull me in closer to you, and place a kiss on my head saying, "I love you," because you did.
We have always gotten along better than Mom and I have, even though I have her face and her nose, I have your soul. I know the times you pushed me to take another step, it was out of love. Even though each time I cried, "Daddy, I can't." I know you said, "Yes you can, don't look up, just watch your feet, one step at a time" and coached me through it because you believed in me. I knew you meant the best, even when you lost your temper and we shouted at each other on rare occasions. You've always accepted who I am, and pushed me into embodying what you know I have the potential to be. I'm sorry I never saw that before, Dad.
You carried me on your shoulders until I was 11 and you took me to all of my band practices in high school. You watched me in my play, when Mom wasn't there. You came home early every Wednesday, only to drive me an hour away to therapy because you wanted me to feel better. You offered me a hug when you knew words weren't enough. You encouraged my story writing since I was a child, and you still believe I can get them published one day. Thank you for that.
You've told me to be stronger, and you taught me how to be. Dad, you have been my rock. Thank you for accepting me when I didn't know you did, loved me when I thought you couldn't, and challenged me when I gave up. I'm sorry I doubted you, Dad. I love you.