Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm a sucker for a daddy's girl

With three simple yet wrenching sentences, Paris Katherine Jackson broke my heart. 

No matter how you felt about her dad, Michael – as a man, as a performer, what he did or didn’t do or even how he acquired his children – Paris, at 11, brought it all home. At the end of the day, there are three children in the world who lost their dad. 

From one Daddy’s girl to another, I can relate. I was 25, not 11, but it was sudden and devastating and still was too soon. And my dad was not the King of Pop, but I’ll be dammed if he wasn’t the King in our family. He was the best father you could ever have.

Conversing on facebook after the service, I said that years from now, Paris will be proud of herself for getting up and taking part in her dad’s memorial celebration. I wrote and delivered my dad’s eulogy. As a writer, I read it now and there’s dozens of changes I’d make, so much more I want to say. But like Paris, my grief was still raw. It was what was on my mind at the time. Standing up next to Dad’s casket, in front of a much smaller gathering of people on a cold winter day and memorializing him remains one of my proudest moments. 

We were in a unique situation with my dad, who wasn’t exactly a church-going man. We wound up using the preacher on call at the time of his death in the hospital. As horrifying a prospect as that was, it went about as good as one could hope. It was obvious, just in the short time the preacher had spent with my mom and dad before his emergency surgery for an aneurysm, he “got” my parents. 

But no one knew him like his family. And I wanted people to know. Dad didn’t rate a celebrity funeral or massive news coverage of his death, but he was well known in our small hometown community. Other than a stint in the Air Force and his college years, he’d never lived anywhere else. I waffled between wanting to call the newspaper to shout his accomplishments to the rooftops, and knowing that, even as a reporter myself, if someone called I was likely to tell them to bugger off and let us be alone in our grief.

Dad was a private person. But I wanted people to know what a great Dad, and a great man, he was. So I wrote his eulogy. It started with his words, actually, a short story I found he’d written about when the cat died, about how we’d been a tight family unit and that was our first loss. He wondered when it would happen again. 

I wrote about how after I’d moved to North Carolina, Dad called me daily, literally you could set your watch by it. About how, when I got home to deal with the funeral and arrangements, I kept waiting to hear his key in the door, his feet on the steps. Something. Anything. 

I don’t know if Paris had planned or thought about what she’d say today, at the end of her dad’s more than two hour service. But something in her, after sitting like a trooper through all the tributes and accolades and celebrations, wanted people to know that the man they all were saying good-bye to was her dad. 

It was hell for me to do what I did at 25. I can’t even begin to imagine it at 11. But I hope she’s proud of herself for representing her family. I know I still am. 

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