This one of the saddest stories about me, but I don’t remember it at all. It serves to remind me of the impermanence of life, but also of the basic goodness of mankind.
My father died suddenly at age 26. He was driving while drunk and pulled his car out in front of a semi truck on a busy road. I was 17 months old, my mother was 17. Because very few of us at 26 believe that we will actually die, very few of us carry any sort of life insurance. My father was no different. He left no money behind to even be buried, much less care for us.
My parents married when she was 15 and he was 23. This was the early 70’s, after all, and times were just.. different. They were as in love as two people of that age can be. It was all very romantic, in the way that young people romanticize marriage. I said that to say that we lived as a “typical” nuclear family. To say that I adored my father was an understatement. My first word was “pretty” and my second was “da-da.” As a man who was pretty convinced of his own awesomeness, I am sure you can guess what he taught me to call him. My mom reports that after he died, I would wait by the door around the time he usually got home from work and call out “pretty da-da” for him. Sometimes, I would throw a fit and not let her move me, and just stay there until I fell asleep. I loved this man.
Understandably, death suddenly became very real for my mom. She did not want to leave me in the same financial shape my dad had left us, so she asked her older sister to help. As a 17 year old who had spent most of her childhood in and out of foster care, my mom had few real life skills and wasn’t sure where to start. Her sister convinced her that she needed to start with life insurance, and calling around to a few agencies.
My aunt set up a meeting with a life insurance salesman. Back in those days, they came to your house. He knew why he was there and the circumstances surrounding the visit. They decided to meet at my aunt’s house, with my aunt and uncle there to help my mom decide what type of life insurance to get.
So, the salesman arrived and apparently he looked a LOT like my dad. So much so, that I thought he was my dad. I ran directly to him, and threw my arms up to be picked up. Instinctually, he picked me up. I called him daddy and kissed his face and hugged his neck. My mom, crying at this point, told me no and tried to pull me away.. The man said to her- no let her stay. He put me on his knee and played with me. No one corrected me that night. No one told me that he wasn’t my father. He just sat and played and talked to me, and loved on a little girl that so needed her daddy. When he left, I got to say goodbye to “my daddy.” My mom says that every adult in the room was crying, even him. He didn’t sell any insurance that night, but I feel that he gave a little girl lonely for her da-da a lovely gift.
I don’t know who that man is/was. I have thought about him over the years and even after several decades have gone by, the story of his kindness brings tears to my eyes. I often wish I could thank him for being so kind to that little confused girl.
I know we are living in a divisive time. But never underestimate capacity for human kindness. We are all just doing our best. I do know that there are “baddies” out there, and am not blind to humans’ ability to be truly shitty to one another.
When that knowledge makes me feel discouraged or overwhelmed, I can think back to this guy. He had nothing to gain, and yet was still kind. I don’t know him, but he has made a huge impact on my life. I choose to be like him.
Stay safe. Stay sober. Be kind.