a spy in the house of love

author alexandra bracken

16 Jun "My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”
― Clarence Budington Kelland

"My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

― Clarence Budington Kelland

10 Apr

In honor of Dad, I was going to post some pictures of his Star Wars collection (I inherited his iPad and, omg, you would not believe how organized he was in terms of his lists and photo documentation), but I suddenly remember that this video existed!  Some of my brother’s college friends decided to film themselves driving from Orange, CA to Orange, FL and stopped at my family’s house for the night.  One of my dad’s absolute FAVORITE things in the world was to give people tours of his collection and he could always take people poking a little fun at his expense.  Jump ahead to 3:00 or so in the video.


P.S.  His eBay handle was SW_Dan55 (or somesuch), totally missing the fact most people would think he meant “Single White Dan,” but that’s the source of our “Star Wars Dan” nickname.

P.P.S.  One of the hardest things about his passing has been deciding what to do with his beloved collection. There are pieces I know we’ll keep because he loved them or we loved them, but we’re still working out what will happen to the rest of it. 

09 Apr My sister is two years older than me, but our birthdays are only three or four days apart depending on the year (I’m 2/27, she’s 3/2), so growing up we shared a good number of birthday parties like this one at Peter Piper Pizza. I asked my mom to send me a couple of older photos I could post on my sister’s Facebook wall to mark her birthday this year, and when she sent me this one she said, “Look at Daddy taking a picture of the cake! It’s such a Daddy move, it made me laugh.”
It made me laugh, too, because this is something he did his whole life: ruthlessly document even the small things, like Little Mermaid birthday cakes, explanatory plaques at museums to remember some small fact later, the three of us coming down the stairs every Christmas morning. I think it was the amateur historian in him, or at least the life-long collector. He collected memories—little inconsequential things like pictures of birthday cakes—and organized them and kept them forever. There are so many “Dad” things about this picture—those terrible jeans, that polo shirt (I’m pretty sure he owned some variation of it his entire life), that haircut…
My sweet dad passed away a year ago today. There’s a part of me that can’t even believe it’s been that long, but an even bigger part of me that feels like it all happened five minutes ago, and I’m still in that hospital room with him. My family and I worked really hard to ease ourselves through the big “firsts”—his first birthday (the end of this month), the first Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I’m so proud of my incredible mom, and how she’s soldiered on, picking up the pieces and charging forward with determination.
What gets you, though, are the small moments that sneak up on you—when you want to call them to hear about their day, when you see a movie and want their opinion, when you have a question about fixing something or finances, when you hear a song they loved. I still cry—a lot, and on some days a lot-a lot. I miss him so much every single day, and while there are things I do to feel close to him, sometimes I just can’t get over the fact he’s not physically present anymore. I don’t get to hear his dorky laugh, or watch him try (and fail) to snap along with the beat to some song, or hear him say, “Hello, Alex Girl! I was just driving home and thought I’d give you a call…”
I think it’s generally true what they say—that the first year is the hardest, but I have to wonder if the second  year will in a way be worse. I think last year… well, he was suffering so much going through chemo, living this terrible sort of half-life and still doggedly fighting through it. When one person in your family is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is. It’s hard to imagine, let alone describe, the kind of constant, terrorizing stress you live with every day, so much so that it manifests physical symptoms. And the release from that is a relief, as is knowing that your loved one isn’t suffering any longer. And Dad was really, really suffering at the end. That’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with.
I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with knowing he’ll never see us get married, my brother graduate, meet any of his grandchildren. One of the reasons this picture means so much is because it captures some small part of him—something I can use to tell you about him, to flesh him out, to share the rich texture of his life.
I miss him, and I love him very much.

My sister is two years older than me, but our birthdays are only three or four days apart depending on the year (I’m 2/27, she’s 3/2), so growing up we shared a good number of birthday parties like this one at Peter Piper Pizza. I asked my mom to send me a couple of older photos I could post on my sister’s Facebook wall to mark her birthday this year, and when she sent me this one she said, “Look at Daddy taking a picture of the cake! It’s such a Daddy move, it made me laugh.”

It made me laugh, too, because this is something he did his whole life: ruthlessly document even the small things, like Little Mermaid birthday cakes, explanatory plaques at museums to remember some small fact later, the three of us coming down the stairs every Christmas morning. I think it was the amateur historian in him, or at least the life-long collector. He collected memories—little inconsequential things like pictures of birthday cakes—and organized them and kept them forever. There are so many “Dad” things about this picture—those terrible jeans, that polo shirt (I’m pretty sure he owned some variation of it his entire life), that haircut…

My sweet dad passed away a year ago today. There’s a part of me that can’t even believe it’s been that long, but an even bigger part of me that feels like it all happened five minutes ago, and I’m still in that hospital room with him. My family and I worked really hard to ease ourselves through the big “firsts”—his first birthday (the end of this month), the first Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I’m so proud of my incredible mom, and how she’s soldiered on, picking up the pieces and charging forward with determination.

What gets you, though, are the small moments that sneak up on you—when you want to call them to hear about their day, when you see a movie and want their opinion, when you have a question about fixing something or finances, when you hear a song they loved. I still cry—a lot, and on some days a lot-a lot. I miss him so much every single day, and while there are things I do to feel close to him, sometimes I just can’t get over the fact he’s not physically present anymore. I don’t get to hear his dorky laugh, or watch him try (and fail) to snap along with the beat to some song, or hear him say, “Hello, Alex Girl! I was just driving home and thought I’d give you a call…”

I think it’s generally true what they say—that the first year is the hardest, but I have to wonder if the second  year will in a way be worse. I think last year… well, he was suffering so much going through chemo, living this terrible sort of half-life and still doggedly fighting through it. When one person in your family is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is. It’s hard to imagine, let alone describe, the kind of constant, terrorizing stress you live with every day, so much so that it manifests physical symptoms. And the release from that is a relief, as is knowing that your loved one isn’t suffering any longer. And Dad was really, really suffering at the end. That’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with.

I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with knowing he’ll never see us get married, my brother graduate, meet any of his grandchildren. One of the reasons this picture means so much is because it captures some small part of him—something I can use to tell you about him, to flesh him out, to share the rich texture of his life.

I miss him, and I love him very much.

17 Jun I’m missing my dad a lot today, for obvious reasons.  To be very honest, I’ve been dreading Father’s Day the same way I dreaded his birthday and my parents’ anniversary, but today definitely hit me harder than I was expecting it to, and I’ve been a little bit of a recluse, not wanting to deal with the Father’s Day brunches or sales or picnics in the park.
It’s been a strange, sad two months—on some days, it feels like he passed away years ago, on others, I feel that same numb hollowness I did when we drove home from the hospital that last time.  I keep it together pretty well on most days, but there are small moments that still sneak up on me, usually when I don’t expect it.  When I read an article and remember I can’t forward it to him, or when I’m standing in Best Buy and I can’t call him to get his opinion on whether or not it’s worth it to buy something.
I’m grateful every day that my life is overflowing with great, brilliant memories.  I love this picture—it was taken up at our old cabin in Flagstaff (this same cabin my grandmother sold the week he passed away).  We used to go up there all the time when we were younger, both in the summer to escape the heat and in the winter to go skiing.  My dad started us very early on skis; I still remember being in first grade and watching, awed, at how great of a skier he was.  I remember him out on the cabin’s porch, his feet propped up on the rails, reading, reading, reading with the mountains behind him.  And that’s been the hardest thing of all—accepting the fact that he’s alive only in memories, no matter how wonderful they are.

I’m missing my dad a lot today, for obvious reasons.  To be very honest, I’ve been dreading Father’s Day the same way I dreaded his birthday and my parents’ anniversary, but today definitely hit me harder than I was expecting it to, and I’ve been a little bit of a recluse, not wanting to deal with the Father’s Day brunches or sales or picnics in the park.

It’s been a strange, sad two months—on some days, it feels like he passed away years ago, on others, I feel that same numb hollowness I did when we drove home from the hospital that last time.  I keep it together pretty well on most days, but there are small moments that still sneak up on me, usually when I don’t expect it.  When I read an article and remember I can’t forward it to him, or when I’m standing in Best Buy and I can’t call him to get his opinion on whether or not it’s worth it to buy something.

I’m grateful every day that my life is overflowing with great, brilliant memories.  I love this picture—it was taken up at our old cabin in Flagstaff (this same cabin my grandmother sold the week he passed away).  We used to go up there all the time when we were younger, both in the summer to escape the heat and in the winter to go skiing.  My dad started us very early on skis; I still remember being in first grade and watching, awed, at how great of a skier he was.  I remember him out on the cabin’s porch, his feet propped up on the rails, reading, reading, reading with the mountains behind him.  And that’s been the hardest thing of all—accepting the fact that he’s alive only in memories, no matter how wonderful they are.

27 Apr Missing my dad a lot this week, especially now.  Today would have been his 57th birthday.  Like I said before, I’m trying not to dwell on how unfair it all is… but, yeah, it’s pretty unfair.
This picture is from 1990—that’s my little brother, and my older sister, Steph.

Missing my dad a lot this week, especially now.  Today would have been his 57th birthday.  Like I said before, I’m trying not to dwell on how unfair it all is… but, yeah, it’s pretty unfair.

This picture is from 1990—that’s my little brother, and my older sister, Steph.