Keeping My Dad With Me

When I was a kid, my [father] was a preacher
He’d talk about God, yeah he was something like a teacher
He said God only helps those, who learn to help themselves
He was a million miles from a million dollars, but you could never spend his wealth.”

–One Republic, “Preacher.”

A post-graduation trip seemed fitting. I’d debated whether to visit one of my best friends in Germany this year or next, but my dad’s passing in January reminded me to seize every moment, and with my master’s graduation in December, this year seemed perfect.

IMG_0850Then I thought about the candle.

I’d known Paris would be a part of the trip; the whole idea of traveling to Europe had partly been inspired by the fact that my friend lived only a 2 hour train ride from the city. Now, I had another purpose for going to my favorite place in the world — lighting a candle in Notre Dame. As it is quite a ritual to light a candle in one of the world’s most famous cathedrals, I’d already lit one here for my late grandfather. But not my dad yet. I got goosebumps thinking about it.

My two-week trip started in Zurich, Switzerland, and just like any big European city, there were a couple of famous churches. When I saw the candles in the first one, another idea crossed my mind: I should light a candle for my dad in every church I visit on this trip.

So I did. 9 different times.

Candle Really Final

It was almost as though he was there with me on that trip, as though I had taken him along through these 4 different countries, 7 different cities. The 14 days reminded me of just how many pieces of my dad that I will continue to carry with me… no matter where my travels take me.

His zest for life. In his last few years especially, my dad always wanted to be doing things; in fact, there were times when his travel bug was as big as mine (and that takes a lot). Hiking, sporting events, seeing a new place, you name it. He had his health (it seemed) for the first time in many years, and he wanted to take advantage of that.

He had to convince me to go on one of our last hiking trips to Devil’s Lake; I had a mountain (no pun intended) of 2012_04_17_8610studying I didn’t want to leave and subsequently, while I did end up going, I protested when the hike took us longer than the 2 hours he’d promised. He laughed — “Meg, it will be fine, just enjoy it.” And of course it was fine. While the memory is obviously a lesson to do more with the ones you love (rather than worry about homework or other work), it’s also a lesson to simply do more in general. When I go out and explore anywhere now — whether climbing to the top of a castle in Europe last month, or just walking my dog — I always think of my dad.

His desire to teach others the lessons he’s learned (many the hard way). During his last few years, my dad focused so hard on learning from his experiences and paying those lessons forward to others. He helped start a 2012_09_30_9999_128recovery group at his church that is still going strong today. Ask anyone there and they’ll say “it would have never gotten off the ground without Pat.”

The passion to pay it forward is something my dad and I had in common; and that is one of the reasons that even though my book painted a negative (though accurate) picture of him at times, he enthusiastically marketed it to everyone he knew, even setting up a special introduction to his church’s youth pastor. As I continue to work to pay forward my experiences and lessons in every way I can, I will continue to be inspired by my dad’s desire to do so as well.

His love of dogs. My dad loved his dog more than anything outside of his 3 girls and wife (and the four of us would often joke even that was questionable). Given how much my sister and I love our dogs, we all bonded over this affection. He loved our dogs too, his “grand puppies,” and even came up with a nickname for mine that has 2012_05_17_9376stuck: “aint right.” (If you’ve ever met my dog, you know the name is fitting). Because of this love, my dad often questioned why I don’t let my own sleep in my bed. “Dogs belong in the bed, they are family members,” he’d say. Well, I am a finicky sleeper, and my dog has it pretty comfy on the floor right next to me.

This past year was a rough one for me, and there were times I gave in, just wanting that warmth next to me. I always told my family you know I had a rough day when I let the dog sleep in my bed. What I don’t always say is that one of the reasons I’m comforted having my dog in my bed after a bad day, is because I always think of how happy my dad would be knowing she’s in there. It’s like I’m saying for a night “here you go, Dad, she’s right where you wanted her, you win.” While I don’t know that she’ll ever get a permanent spot next to me, it’s nice to know that option is available as a reminder when I need it.

His appreciation for {second} chances. My sisters and I asked my dad to do a lot during the last 3 years of his life, many of the tasks out of the ordinary. Perhaps fixing the occasional garage door (like when I dadgirls1accidentally ran the top of my car into it while it was opening) or watching the dogs were normal things, but probably going to my house and picking my dog up at 12am New Year’s so I could stay at my sister’s and party, or, on that same night, picking my other sister and her friends up from a bar at 4am so they didn’t have to call a cab, went beyond the call of even dad duty at times. But my dad didn’t mind (or at least he never said he did), because he was so happy we’d allowed him back into our lives to do these things. He’d say “I don’t have to do it, I get to do it.”

I could write an entire blog post about that last saying and why it’s how we should all live each and every moment in our lives. For now, I’ll just say that my dad reminds me to appreciate every chance you get, especially ones you thought you might not get.

His great taste in music. My dad had the best taste in music of anyone I’ve met — hands down. He introduced me to groups and albums I’m quite sure I would have never heard otherwise at a young age — how many fifth-graders listened to Hell Freezes Over by the Eagles on the way to their basketball games? James Taylor, Eva Cassidy, Crash Test smd_110299_the_eagles_the_last_resort_webDummies (when they were big), 10,000 Maniacs, all classic groups that when played, take my sisters and I back to car rides or Sundays at home with him growing up.

In his more recent years, my dad and I bonded over several Christian groups, NeedtoBreathe and 10th Avenue North, in particular. Every single song by every one of these bands now carries a greater meaning for me. In fact, there is hardly a song on my iPod that doesn’t make me think of my dad. I take great pride in my eclectic taste in music, and I take even greater pride that this taste comes from my dad.

His love of laughter. Ask anyone who knew my dad well, and they’ll tell you about how he made them laugh: img_0959some joke he had, some sarcastic comment, some nickname for something. He loved to laugh, and he loved to make others do so as well.

I like to think I’ve inherited his quick wit (we certainly have similar mental capacities in many areas, such as memory). There have been dark — very dark — days this year where my sisters and I have made jokes to get through, and I always think to myself: “that’s exactly what dad would want us to be doing.”

His “do the best you can” attitude. A few months before he passed away, I gave my dad a CD filled with songs from the band, NeedtoBreathe — I trusted he’d like it. I’d told him a few of my favorites, but after listening to it my dad said he had a different one: “Tyrant Kings.” I’d heard it, but never really listened to the lyrics. A couple months ago I came across them:

I’m feeling like a vagrant
In my own town, I’m like an awkward conversation
All of this work and I aint seeing any wages
I aint gonna stop until I do.”

The message in these lyrics definitely brought tears, thinking about how true it was for my dad. He’d fought a long dadmeracejourney to be back where he was, and in some people’s eyes, he still had a ways to go. But as I have continued to listen to this song over and over again, I have been reminded of one of the most important lessons from him (one I wrote about last year at this time): you cannot rid yourself of past mistakes, you cannot reverse decisions. All you can do is  live your life and do your best the next time. Some people may continue to think ill of you, but that’s on them, and there’s nothing else you can do about it. As the song states, “time is like a fortune, when we take it.” Just keep moving forward and don’t stop trying.

His belief in a higher power:  I had my own beliefs, and I definitely believed in something. I had had so many moments in my life, particularly those described in my book, where I was pretty darn sure something bigger than me was at work. But this year, I believe I have been shown in so many ways; some small and subtle; others big and unfathomable; that I am not the only one, as they say, “running the show.”


Religion and spirituality are personal, and I’m not here to preach; in fact, that’s why I’ve avoided a blog post on some of the things that I’ve encountered this past year; they’re personal, they’re what make ME believe. I also believe whole-heartedly in the quote that opens this post — ultimately we all have to save ourselves. But I have felt  a presence these past 12 months beyond anything I could have ever imagined. My dad was the most religious person I knew, and through many long discussions, he knew where I stood — he knew there were a few things I remained on the fence about. Which is why I’m convinced he’s taken the opportunity this year to make it clear. Sitting at mass in my dad’s church on Christmas Eve, I found myself immediately reduced to tears, but  it wasn’t because my dad wasn’t there. It was because of just how many times the past year, he had shown me he was.

2012_04_20_8882Today would have been my dad’s 56th birthday… just two days after the day he passed away one year ago. I wish, more than anything that I could celebrate with him, but I find comfort knowing that he is with me still…

In so, so many ways.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

dad me little

The 2nd two choruses of “Preacher”:
When I was a kid, my [father] was a preacher
He’d talk about Love, yeah he was something like a teacher
He said  God only helps those, who learn to help themselves
He was a million miles from a million dollars, but you could never spend his wealth.”
When I was a kid, my [father] was a preacher
He’d talk about Life, yeah he was something like a teacher
He said  God only helps those, who learn to help themselves
He was a million miles from a million dollars, but you could never spend his wealth.”




2 thoughts on “Keeping My Dad With Me

  1. Mike Collins

    Your dad always bragged about you and your sisters. It’s easy to see why, and I’m sure you’re still making him smile. Thanks for the wonderful post and tribute to Pat.

  2. Sherri Collins

    As the tears roll down my cheeks, while reading your blog, I am reminded again just how much I miss your dad! (Not that I haven’t had lots of reminders this past year!)
    He had such a presence in our life group and it hasn’t been the same since he left us!
    We never grew tired of hearing him brag on ” his girls”!
    God showed Himself BIG in the 2 years we all prayed for you and your sisters renewed relationship with your dad!
    After that Pat would always say, “I have no more prayers, as mine have all (3) been answered!”
    Much Love to you!
    You are beautiful!
    Sherri Collins

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