Father’s Day is, of course, different for me now, as it has been for the last nine Father’s Day’s since he died. I can’t go see him, give him a card or a present, call him, or even send him an email. All I can really do is write about him, about what he meant to me. That’s the best way I can think of to soothe my aching heart today.
When he was sick, he told us he didn’t want us to go to his grave because he wouldn’t be there. I get that. But I still go. Mama always keeps flowers on it, and I’ve put some on there once or twice myself. If she didn’t do it, I would. It seems like it’s what I’m supposed to do. So I do.
I don’t miss him the most when I look at old pictures, or even old home videos. Or when when people tell me funny Richard Bunton stories. That’s what he’d want us to do. He was the life of the party, and he’d be thrilled to know he still is after he’s gone. I don’t miss him the most when I read the letters he wrote me. I have every letter and card he sent when I lived all over the country. He signed them, “So sad, Your Dad.” I also have every email he sent me. He always started them with “Deether” — his nickname for me. Those are all precious to me. But it’s not where I feel him the most.
I feel that familiar ache the deepest when I dream about him. I suppose as the years go by, they may get fewer and far between. In my dreams, I can hear his voice so clearly. I can touch him and feel his skin, feel his arms around me. They aren’t just any arms. They’re distinctly his, and they’re strong and healthy. And most importantly, what makes me recall him the most vividly, is I can smell him in my dreams. It’s a mixture of the sweat of a hard working man, sawdust, and Old Spice. It may not sound very appealing, but if I could bottle it up, I would open it every day and immediately steal away to a world where my Daddy is still with me.
I’m not one of those people who romanticize someone when they die. It always cracks me up how people act like the dearly departed never did anything wrong all of the sudden. I always wonder, “Who in the heck are you kidding?” when they start describing Mother Teresa when their lost loved one was a regular Joe like this rest of us. So let me just say my Daddy wasn’t a perfect man. I’m sure people could tell stories that I wouldn’t want to hear. I’m thankful people only tell me the good things they remember about him. Those things don’t matter to me now. They didn’t matter to me then. He may have had many character flaws, especially as a younger man, but that isn’t the man I remember. That isn’t who he was to me.
This is who he was to me. He was opinionated and stubborn. For many years, he smoked like a freight train, cussed like a sailor, and sometimes drank like a fish — or so I’m told. He didn’t really do that at home. He stopped smoking AND switched from whole to skim milk cold turkey when he had his first heart attack at 52. He could still cuss if anyone mentioned Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. After supper and after I’d finished my homework, we’d play Yatzee or Monopoly, or rummy or 5 Card Stud. He wouldn’t let me win. I had to earn it, and although it made me mad as a wet hen then, I’m glad now that I learned how to lose.
He was the alpha male. Everything had to be his way. He was dramatic and passionate and got slap tore up if anyone moved his stuff on his table beside his beloved recliner — which I frequently did just to watch him fuss. He didn’t know what to do with me when I was a mouthy teenager. I can hear him now yelling, “MARTHA! Bring me my blood pressure pills! This youn’un is gonna be the death of me!”
Oh but from my earliest memories, I loved the ground he walked on. I called him my Darling Daddy, a name I’m told I gave him when I was just learning to talk. I was grown up before I figured out why. You see, it didn’t really matter to me if he wasn’t perfect. He was just a simple telephone man. He loved airplanes, and fishing, and playing Rook and his guitar, and camping with his nephews and brothers, and his woodworking shop, and his beat up old van, and animals. He loved making people laugh — his stories may or may not have been embellished to add effect. He loved Jesus, his church, his preacher, and “Amazing Grace.” He loved my Mama, my brothers and my sister, his siblings, and my Grandpa and Grandma Bunton. He loved his grandchildren beyond reason. And he loved me.
In our family, we didn’t go to bed without saying, “I love you.” We didn’t hang up the phone and we didn’t leave the house without saying it. It was his rule, and we lived by it. Let me tell you, that wasn’t always fun. When I was mad at him because he wouldn’t let me do something I wanted to do, which was VERY often — he was extremely overprotective — I didn’t always want to say, “I love you, too.” But he wouldn’t let me go until I said it too. He’d say, “You never know what could happen to either of us today, and we always want ‘I love you’ to be the last thing we say, don’t we?” Yes, we did. We still do. We’ve all carried that tradition on with our families.
He had Agnogenic Myeloid Metaplasia. It’s so rare, you probably have never known anyone with it, and you probably never will. They gave him a year to live shortly before his 64th birthday, but he lived 3 1/2. He never got to enjoy retirement. He was very sick and in a lot of pain for most all of that time. It was hard to see the man who had muscles of steel, who could do and fix anything, who always had a joke, who was always laughing, waste away before our very eyes. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
When my sister called in the wee hours of the morning to tell me he was gone, I was expecting it. I had been for a long while. I’d lost the one man who loved me unconditionally. Instinctively I knew, nothing would ever be the same. No one would ever love me the way he did.
So often I think of things I wish I could tell him, and just talk to him, get his opinion — He ALWAYS had an opinion. Yeah, I know, I know. He’s happy now. He’s not sick anymore. He’s with the Lord, and his parents, and 8 siblings who have also gone on. It’s selfish to wish him back here when Heaven is so much better. But oh how I wish I’d had him longer. I’m always a bit jealous of people who still have their daddies. I wish he’d met Todd. He would have loved him. I wish he could see how happy I am now, how I’ve gained 25 much needed pounds — I was in sad shape the last time he saw me. I wish he could see how my face hurts from smiling so much, what good nurses the girls are, what wonderful men they have married, and what a handsome, hard working young man Daniel is and how well he’s doing in school. He’d be so proud of them.
Who really knows? Maybe he knows all of those things. Maybe God lets him see. I like to think so anyway.
Fittingly, the last thing he said to me was, “I love you.” I always knew it would be.
I love you, too, my Darling Daddy. And until we meet again, I’ll be seeing you, hearing you, touching you and smelling you in my dreams. Happy Father’s Day in Heaven. I’m sure missing you down here.