Activating the Bat-Signal for My Deceased Father

This Father’s Day is the 18th without my father on the physical plane.

After so many years without him physically but with an ever-present, still-growing spiritual practice and much gratitude, I’ve learned that we can simply ask our deceased beloved to show up, and they will. Most recently, I know my dad helped me fix my clothes dryer. He was a fix-it type–and still is, it seems. I spent a significant part of my childhood in the garage with my dad, handing him tools and keeping him company, whether he was building his ’35 Ford Coupe from the shell-in-primer state, changing his oil in his Ford station wagon, working solo or with his buddies on his latest race car that hadn’t been demolished at the Slinger speedway (Wisconsin favorite), or fixing his Yamaha motorcycle and later his Harley Davidson. I got up at sunrise to join him at many hot-rod car shows, and he quizzed and trained me about car parts at the swap meets. Three years ago, I wasn’t afraid to research YouTube, buy the necessary parts and replace my blower motor and resistor, so I could have working heat again in my Honda CR-V and save a couple hundred dollars. I am my father’s daughter.

The clothes dryer. In the same week a few weeks ago, my clothes dryer and five-year-old smart phone went kaput. For mechanical woes, I’ve learned to put a call out to my deceased father, just as you might pray to the appropriate saint or angel for a lost object, protection or house sale. I shine the Bat-Signal (RIP, Adam West) for my father when I need mechanical help or driving directions. I first had my human-experience panic: I was already in financial struggle, and now two not-so-cheap replacements were needed, in the same week. Then, I went into my famous research mode, checking “new” dryers but gravitating toward Craigslist. And asking Dad for help.

That’s when I called “Dan” about the dryer he posted on Craigslist. This man could barely hear me when I called, and I practiced patience as I repeated most of what I needed to say and ask. My gut said to trust him. He wasn’t hearing me that I just wanted to buy his dryer and that I’d need to arrange help; he insisted that he check my dryer first, completely confident he knew he could probably fix the 1970s dryer I had. So, we scheduled a time, and then I did the responsible thing of letting close friends know that I had a stranger coming to my home while I was alone; I texted his name and phone number and the time of his visit to said friends.

Dan exited his large, white truck, carefully lifting each foot, as his legs wobbled a bit, and he firmly planted one foot on the ground, as he advanced toward me. He’s in his 80s, since he later shared that he’d been in Colorado since the 1930s. I exhaled, now trusting that there was no stranger danger. I shook his hand, and he met my dog, and we all entered my home. After I let him assess the dryer, I asked if he needed water or anything else. He handed me a crazy-dust-and-lint-filled metal piece, and I understood I needed to vacuum said piece. No words were needed. After that task was complete, I returned and saw him struggling with thick, shaky fingers to undo a necessary screw in the dryer, and I asked if he needed some help. “I usually have an assistant,” he assured me, but we knew that’s why I was there and so willing. For the next 40 minutes, we were a seamless team, sweating in my small laundry room and exchanging only fix-it-related words. I wasn’t afraid to jump in and find myself covered in the dust–more vacuuming and helping where I could. It was in the first moment of his asking, “Hand me that socket driver,” that I knew exactly what he meant, and I was suddenly a young girl in my dad’s garage, handing my father tools he’d taught me to distinguish. I knew.

And when I noticed the dryer vent had come off the back of dryer and couldn’t quite reach it and grabbed a mop handle to hook and lift it within reach, Dan smiled at me and laughed and said, “Well, that’s a smart thing to do. [pause] Are you married?” No. “Well, how come no one has snatched up a beautiful, smart woman like you, yet?” And then he went on to say he’s been married 62 years to his “beautiful bride.” Our affection grew when I noticed the end of the rescued dryer vent end coming apart and announced, “Duct tape–right there, a few inches from your right hand in that basket on the shelf.”

An hour and only $60 later, my 1970s, still-awesome dryer was working again because Dan replaced the faulty thermal fuse. Like my father, I’m apt to try to fix something before tossing or replacing it; I couldn’t have found a more perfect form of help. I nearly cried with both the relief and the gift of this man. We hugged as he left, and he continued his careful, strategic gait with exaggerated knee lifts and foot placement, and only after I handed him a bag with blueberry scones I’d baked him that morning. Because somehow I knew.

© 2017 Erika M. Schreck. All rights reserved.


Live for No Regrets… with Loved Ones

A friend’s e-mail this morning solidified my intention for my post today, Father’s Day.  Happy Father’s Day if this is your day! Feel the love.

One of the main elements that just ate at me when my father first passed away and in years to follow was regret in feeling I could have tried harder with my father. I distinctly remember, months after my dad had died, sitting in the car with my boyfriend at the time after we’d just picked up Chinese food for dinner. Before I could even exit the car, I was flooded with tears and hiccupping speech, saying things like “Why didn’t I just get Chinese food with my dad more? Why couldn’t I just get over it and visit him at the bar where he usually was? Why didn’t I visit him more?” and then sinking into utter regret and sadness for the next hour or so.

We all “could” have done and “could” do better. Sure. But one of the biggest suggestions I’ve given to people struggling in some way currently with a father, mother or other family member still in this physical plane is to say what you need to say do what will yield the fewest regrets for yourself. Regret, while for most cannot be avoided completely, is the killer for many in the grieving process and one of those nagging aspects even years later. I can easily go there but choose to shift my thinking and instead somehow talk to or honor my father and other loved ones I’ve lost.

Whether we’ve lost someone suddenly (that “no notice” feeling) or had some time with a dying loved one, regret still somehow can creep in. An important point here is that saying what needs saying and doing what needs doing for your greatest peace doesn’t mean you necessarily resolve everything or even anything in the relationship, but your peace and aim for no regrets are healthy goals. On the last Father’s Day I had with my own father, a man struggling with alcoholism and women and relationships with his children, I didn’t know it was my last Father’s Day with him. But after much therapy and increased personal power, I mustered up enough certainty and necessity to tell him, “Dad, sometimes you were really a sh*tty father.” Yes, on Father’s Day. His response? “I know.” But from that point on, I was lucky and admit that our relationship only improved, and somehow it was out, and we were okay—and still imperfect. There were even more “I love you’s” and more phone calls.  Yes, I lost him within the year and didn’t know I would, but I had made a huge step in telling him what I needed and felt such relief.

Not an ideal story, and many of us have those. And I sincerely loved my father, “warts and all.” Now that he’s on the other side, he is such a guide to me, and more than regret I feel gratitude and love—and even a lot more understanding. We’re all so friggin’ human, and sometimes just by saying and doing what we need (even if it’s silence or inaction) that brings us the most—finally, if anything, we have peace within, which is the key to so much in this life. Right?

I’ve learned that we can’t beat ourselves up, getting stuck in the “oh, I shoulda-woulda-coulda done that.” Two weeks or so before my dad died, he’d invited me and my siblings to a Milwaukee Wave (soccer) game, but I had to work. Something inside told me I should maybe see if I could switch with someone, as this invitation was rather rare and precious, but I missed the game and time with Dad. I’m glad my brother was able to share that time with him, though. But that’s an important thing I learned: There is always more time we could have had and time we especially wish we’d had. In trying to sincerely live in a way when we’re in integrity, though, we minimize the regret, no matter what the relationship (even if, like with some of my friends, there is minimal contact and some really tough stuff for serious reasons).

Whatever your relationship with your living or deceased loved ones, enjoy what you can, realize the important things and live for the fewest regrets possible, no matter what that means for you. I just can’t resist: With the theme of regret and practicing discretion, I need to leave with some words from one of my father’s favorites, singer Kenny Rogers: “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em/Know when to walk away and know when to run.” Don’t hold onto—just fold on—the regret.

© 2011 Erika M. Schreck. All rights reserved.