Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
It’s been way too long since you’ve been gone. Eight years, almost. Every time another year rolls by and the anniversary of your death comes up again, I can’t believe it. How can you have been gone this long? How have we managed without you? Isn’t it time for you to come back now? Can you get a day pass? I know, I know. I wrote a book with a guy who’s been inside those gates (“My Journey to Heaven”). He told me nobody ever wants to come back. But I still wish it was possible.
2. You look so, so good. Marv told me everyone he saw in Heaven looks fantastic, robust, like they could do flips and fly. Super human. He told me his friend Paul, whom he saw in Heaven, still had a belly, and that the six people he saw there were wearing clothes similar to those they wore on earth. This comforted me, for some reason. I wanted to think of you as Abe Reimer, the short, rotund bookseller with glasses on a chain around your neck and packets of Caf-Lib and a little New Testament in your pocket. And here you are, glowing with health and wholeness, yes, but also my same Dad, with your same belly. By the looks of you, the food here is pretty good. I have a feeling you don’t have to watch your weight anymore. I bet there’s Napolean Torte every night for dessert.
3. Have you met my co-author, Marv Besteman? Of course you have. I picture you there at the gate, in the mix of that grand greeting party when he arrived. I’m sure the two of you are best friends. He was such a dad to me in the two-and-a-half years I knew him. He called me his third daughter, and lit up when I walked in the room. I like to think of the two of you, my two dads, hanging out, playing hockey, talking theology and telling stories about their kids and grand-kids. Two saints in the Heavenly realm, praying for us in that great cloud of witnesses.
4. Speaking of hockey, the Winnipeg Jets are back!!!! 16 years after they were abducted to the desert by that sneaky coyote Bettman, our team is back on the ice! One reason I missed them so much is that team reminded me of you, of $7, 7-11 nosebleed seats, of you getting up out of your warm, cozy chair in the living room to drive across town in 40 below weather to pick me up after a game. You were so patient when we wanted to stick around and get autographs. I think of that when I don’t want to get up out of my cozy chair to pick up one of my kids.
5. How is everyone up there? Grandma, Grandpa. Opa, Oma! Precious Uncle Al and Aunt Gladys, Aunt Mary and Uncle Leonard. I’d give anything to see them again on this earth. How’s Lori? I wear her class ring still, every day. It means so much to me that her parents live in mom’s building now. I think you’ll see them soon yourself. I’d love to witness the moment when Lori’s parents are reunited with their girl again. You’ll have to be my witness, Dad. Give everyone my deepest love, and big hugs.
6. What’s Anna like? Most people don’t know you had a twin sister who died when she was 10-months-old. I imagine you have lots of catching up to do. I still can’t believe you told me once that you sometimes felt her presence in your life, the twin you never knew, an angel on your shoulder.
7. Many people now read books on a thing called a “Kindle,” which is like this flat computer screen about the size of a book. I am still holding out. To me, paper and ink and dog ears and author photos and colored illustrations are a vital part of reading. I’m hoping in Heaven people still read paper and ink books, and buy them from you at a local bookstore. Although, what “local” means in the universe next door I have no earthly idea. I picture you hand-selling books to customers who love you, just like you did here. I imagine you brimming over with excitement at having picked the right book for the right person at the right time. I hope your bookstore there smells as good as the bookstore here did, like paper, ink, leather, and bread and brownies baking next door.
9. I think of you whenever I see an indie bookstore, a vintage Maple Leafs jersey, dried apricots, and head cheese. (Head cheese, Dad? Really?) I think of you when something really good happens in my life, or something really bad, when I hear Southern Gospel music or the German language, or visit a Christian bookstore. In fact, when I miss you, I go to Baker Book House, and just wander around, straightening books, reading back covers, and remembering. I think of you when one of my kids does something really good, and when my kids break my heart, like all kids do. I broke yours more than once.
10. I forgive you, for being broken, for being a good but flawed person who worked too much and was on too many committees. You never really overcame your atrocious, war-torn childhood in Ukraine and Germany. (I still shudder at the mention of Stalin, and the way you said his name.)
I forgive you for being a mediocre businessman, but a phenomenal bookseller. My life with books was and is extravagantly rich. You gave me that, and so much more. You are whole now, at peace, no anger, stress, regrets. You were a good dad to me, and to Dan. You were an outstanding Opa. We miss you so.
11. Thank you for adopting me, for leaning in and accepting the very foreign idea of adoption when you and mom could not have biological children. Thank you for coming home from work and telling mom about your co-worker and his wife, who had adopted a baby. Thank you for opening up to the idea, in 1968!, that you and mom could form a family in a different way than anyone else you knew in the Mennonite community. And thank you most of all for following God’s prompt, and choosing me (and then Dan).
You are my realest of real dads, unlike my birth father, who people sometimes refer to as my “real” dad. Please pray for him by the way. He’s so lost and fractured. He needs Jesus.
Speaking of whom…. Visiting hours are over, so soon?
That’s the way it goes, in life and visiting hours: over too soon.
Remember what Tante Susie wrote on your coffin, before it was lowered into the ground?
Bis wir uns wieder treffen
Until we meet again.
Yes, Dad. Until we meet again. Happy Father’s Day, and much love from this side of the veil!
Readers: That’s what I would say to my dad if I could, more or less. What would you say to yours if you had the chance for one more conversation?