I was driving on Randall Road last Saturday, my birthday, when a quick breeze ran through my body from left to right. I checked to see if the air conditioning was on. Nope. The window was rolled up, too. Then I became very sad. Very sad. Because I knew what had just happened. My dad was saying goodbye to me. About ten minutes later, my phone rang and my sister told me that he had died.
I know all of our dads are our heroes. And forgive me if this sounds familiar. By now, I'm sure you know that he was mine. But more than anything, he was just a good person. Maybe that is, in the end, better than being a hero.
Timothy J. Herlehy owned an excavating business. But he wasn't an excavator. He was a builder. Yes, he built many office buildings and parking lots. But he also made Kachina dolls. He built four or five houses and probably hundreds of different rooms for friends and family. He built flawless fences. I was jealous of his precision in those fences. He made driveways. He made a board game. And most important, he made me a man.
He made relationships that lasted much longer than the fences and driveways. He talked to his childhood buddy every week. I don't even talk to my college buddies every month. And he did it without Facebook. His life was always in building.
One week, he went to an Indian Reservation and built there just because they needed someone like him to help. He made me a home whenever I needed it. He made homes for a lot of people. It wouldn't be uncommon to wake up and see some strange person sleeping on our couch or in a bedroom. When people needed a place to stay for a night or a couple of weeks or even months, my dad put them up. I had the privilege of being introduced to Kenny Loggins' cousin once because he stayed with my dad for awhile. Really, he was the cousin of Kenny Loggins. He looked just like him and besides, who would lie about being Ken Loggins' cousin?
One of my favorite things about my dad was he made good things out of bad. One time late at night, he saw that I was hungry but couldn't find anything to eat. The next day was shopping day so you know, that night before the cupboards are pretty bare. This one was too except for a can of hominy. So he made that and while we both ate, he talked at length about the times he ate hominy and who eats it now and what goes with hominy. Hominy tastes like crap. I'm sure he knew it but he also knew what I have finally come to understand and that is, that it doesn't matter what you eat when you love and enjoy the people you're eating with. He told me some day we'll try some grits. I'm sure he was laughing inside because grits tastes like crap too.
My dad's wake started at four pm and ended at eight. The whole time, the line rarely thinned. You would have thought someone was giving away Springsteen tickets. He spent his whole life doing what I just figured out. Being a hater doesn't help anyone. Being a builder, now that is something noble.
Many people felt bad that he died on my birthday. They say that it was supposed to be your day. But I never saw the meaning of birthdays any more. Sort of a nuissance. Now, however, I feel much differently. If my dad were to die on any day, I'm actually glad it was on my birthday. Because I now know how to celebrate it. I'll do what he did his whole life. Why half-heartedly celebrate my life this one day when I can instead whole-heartedly celebrate his? That's what a builder would do. So every year on March 24th, I'm going to celebrate my birthday by visiting with his friends and family and saying goodby, again and again, to him.
I am very sad now. I don't know if this is grief. I am just sad. I wonder if I'll ever laugh uncontrollably. I sort of don't care. Where does time go? Life sometimes slips by us.