When I was about seven years old we were walking back to the Sea Gypsy in Pismo on a little side street. I was balancing on the edge of a tall curb as we were walking and I lost my balance. I remember starting to fall and putting my hands out and bracing myself for skinned hands and knees but I never hit the ground. Instead of falling down I was lifted up in the air and I was so startled that I started to cry. My dad had caught me, mid-fall. He had reached down and caught me right out of the air before I hit the ground. I always thought my dad was like Superman; whenever he could he would catch me and stop me from falling. Around my dad, I always felt safe and protected and loved.
My dad believed that every day was a gift – he lived his life like every day was a blessing. While he was serving in Vietnam he was shot, and though we all laughed about how he lost a butt cheek in the war, the reality was that he was very lucky to be alive. He was laying on his stomach and the bullet grazed all the way down his back; if the bullet had been just a half an inch over it would have gone through his head and he would have died.
My dad celebrated the day he was shot as “life day” and he lived as if each day was a bonus. He would sing in the mornings when he woke up. He enjoyed life and he taught me how to appreciate the small things: a sunrise drive when we were the only two awake, a cold Pepsi – which always tasted better out of his cup, getting up early in the morning for hot cinnamon rolls, that anything tastes better cooked over an open flame, that hiking is good exercise, but you learn more on a ranger program, and that everything is better at the beach. He taught me to appreciate British humor and could recite almost every line Chevy Chase said in “Vacation,” and he had just about the best laugh. I used to call him to share something funny just to hear him laugh so hard he started to wheeze; my dad's laughter could shake anyone out of a bad mood.
Ten years ago, after learning that he had cancer, he told me that he always thought the years since he was shot were a bonus, and that he thought the reason he had all those years was so that he could have me and my sister and my girls. We had ten more years together, and he got to know all my daughters but it was not enough time. Despite his tendency toward being overprotective, my dad taught me not to be afraid. He taught me to embrace life and travel and try new things. He taught me that “Full Metal Jacket” has the most authentic boot camp scene of any movie, but he was not as thrilled that I picked up the vocabulary. He taught me that education is important and pushed me to do my best. He taught me about honesty and integrity and that it is better to do the right thing than the easy thing. He taught me that it is important to love what you do so it never feels like work.
My dad was a fantastic story teller. We would sit around the campfire and he would tell us stories about the pranks he pulled when growing up, his time in the Marines, and family stories about when my sister and I were little. I could listen to my dad for hours, and even if he was telling the same story again he could still make you laugh.
My dad always encouraged me to try my best; he taught me to have high expectations and he thought I could do anything, he made me believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. I always thought he could do anything — my dad was a Marine; he was tough and could handle whatever life threw at him and usually came out on top. And he taught me that I could handle it too. I still can't believe he’s gone.
Whenever I am been back in Pismo I still point out the scene of my rescue. I still remember that feeling of amazement that my dad saved me, but even now, I am still not surprised, because that was who my dad was; encouraging me to run ahead but ready to catch me if I fell.