About two weeks ago, with Father's Day just around the corner, I found myself on a plane traveling across country to pay tribute to a man I used to call father-in-law, but who always remained family.
Andy died in a motorcycle accident just a couple hours after my 10-year-old son, Taylor, thanked him by phone for the birthday present and photos he sent of himself on that very motorcycle. He was only 59, with so much life left to live.
Andy taught me so much about living life, the importance of family and the value of a well-prepared meal. Oh, what a chef he was! I have such fond memories of the countless hours spent talking, laughing, and cooking with him.
Andy was the first person in my adult life to teach me that family is who you make it to be. I lived the concept while growing up. But Andy showed it to me in a different way, accepting my daughter as his own granddaughter, through the son he raised who isn’t biologically related to either Andy or Whitney.
Andy didn't care.
Whitney was his grandbaby from the moment she was born and remained so always.
Maybe it was because she was the first girl grandchild, and maybe it was the way she would perch in the crook of his arm for hours while he would read his westerns - whatever it was, the two of them had a very special bond.
With help from my dad’s brother, an uncle who never knew Andy - an uncle who I hadn't heard from in years - but who understands the importance of family bonds, I was able to take Taylor and Whitney to Arizona for their grandpa's funeral.
It had been a while since I'd been to the desert. I’d forgotten just how dry it was. It was as if the air knew that we were Floridians and immediately attacked us for what moisture we brought from our paradise.
It wasn't just zero humidity, but something more like negative 15 percent - you know, the kind where it actually sucks out what little moisture you have left in your body. As if we hadn’t lost enough already through the tears we shed.
Spending the week reminiscing with the family that I'm not quite part of anymore, I realized just how lucky I have been in life when it comes to fathers.
I was adopted when I was 16 days old.
I never had much interest in finding my biological parents until I became a parent myself. I admit I was more than a little nervous eight years ago about meeting my biological father, Steve, for the first time - especially when just before packing my little children in the car to drive from Utah to Oregon, I found out that he had always thought I was a boy.
It turns out I couldn't have made up a better adult version of him. He's kind-hearted, smart, funny, active in his community, and his family always comes first. He has raised two beautiful children and has a close extended family. He spends his free time fixing people's cars - and never charges them enough.
It's nice to know I share his genes.
So which is stronger, I often wonder - nature or nurture, genes or the environment? This is a frequent topic of conversation between my husband and me as we find that even though our six children aren't biologically related, they all sound the same on the phone. I like to think that nature and nurture are even handed in their influence, but sometimes I lean more toward environment. Which brings me to my real dad.
Throughout my life, people ask me about my “real” dad as soon as they find out that I'm adopted. And I tell them - my real dad is the one who raised me. The one who takes care of me. The one I call dad.
My dad is brilliant. I couldn't ask for any better. He is funny, kind, sharp and witty.
I'm pretty sure I get my insatiable curiosity from him. He loves learning and continues to feed his knowledge every chance he gets. (It baffles me how my generation is supposed to know more than our parents about computers and technology, yet he's always at least one step ahead of me.)
Before my dad and my “real” mom (who happens to be wonderful, too) moved here to be near me and my family, my dad, who works in human services, used a federal grant to create an entire program for the state of Utah. He helped ex-offenders re-enter the workforce and the community, find jobs, housing, food, and transportation so that they could start a new life. What started as just an idea, a brochure and himself, quickly grew into a statewide program - because of his tenacity, his vision and his compassion for his fellow man.
While keeping his family in the forefront, my dad dedicates his life to helping others through his professional, spiritual and personal life.
Local fire departments here in Levy County will be happy to know my Dad was the one who taught me how to chase smoke columns and sirens. Not for the reasons one might think, though. We stopped for any accident, any fire, anytime as I was growing up in the small community of Riverton, Utah because my dad always wanted to make sure that he was there to help in case someone needed him. And so often they did.
From the time I was a little girl my dad has shown me through example the kind of person I want to be. I have become that person because of him. And I continue to try harder because of him.
There is a key value held sacred by each of these fathers that have made such an impact in my life: family is most important - always. And I am the lucky beneficiary.
I hope your Father's Day is as happy as mine.
P.S. Happy Father's Day, Uncle Scott. Thank you.