Daddy shocked my socks off with his appearance that sunny day. How did he know where I was? Why was he asking that question?
I mean, he’d been dead for over 25 years.
He was still dead alright–but there he stood about 50 feet away, his unmistakable outline filled in solid black like a 3-D shadow. His silhouette detailed down to the bulge of the cigarette case always carried in his left front pocket.
The first thing I thought was, “Oh hell no, I don’t want to see dead people. Nope. I don’t want to be one of those people with that particular gift. Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
Then my father started a telepathic conversation.
Daddy: Why are you being so hard on yourself?
Me: Um, are you serious? Because you raised me to be like that.
Daddy: Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Me: What?! When I brought home report cards and had a 99 average in a class, you’d ask why it wasn’t 100!
Yes, I was giving my father’s ghost some well-deserved shit.
But then I started freaking out because HE’S STILL STANDING THERE. Aren’t spirits supposed to be airy and see-thru, ephemeral and fleeting? Gossamer–and then GONE?! But Daddy is firmly in place. In broad daylight. Why won’t he go poof like in books and movies?
I looked down at the ground and closed my eyes hard, in hopes that he’d vamoose before I opened them.
Nope. Still there. Still transmitting that same damned message, permeated with boundless love.
Then I was seized by another frightful thought. “Oh my God, what if he starts walking toward me? I can’t handle that. I got your message, Daddy. I promise I’ll give it serious consideration, but I’ll DIE on this very spot if you get closer.”
Averting my gaze once more, I said to him with such fervor, “I love you Daddy. I love you so, so much. I miss you just as much, too.”
Looking back up, I saw he was no more. The whole experience lasted only about 2 minutes in real-time. But do you know how long that is when you’re hanging out with a dead person? Yeah, it’s that long.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that he would eventually materialize. I’d been sensing and encountering him all along. But mostly I filed away those experiences as just being my imagination or magical thinking. Perhaps it was a coping skill, a psychological comfort.
Particularly in the first decade after his passing, I was determined to keep moving on and not wallow. The never-ending pity party would have been the easiest response but also the most self-destructive. And it would actually dishonor the time we did have together. Most dangerously, it would annihilate my gratitude–the essential element that made life (and joy) possible even as hot tears of grief drenched my face.
His presence was palpable at times, mostly when I was driving late at night on a lonely road. I wouldn’t look in the rear view mirror for fear that he’d be in the back seat, smiling. In which case there would be two possible outcomes, both involving Jesus:
1. Jesus would either have to take the wheel (obviously) or
2. He would pluck me up to join Daddy in the Great Hereafter.
One evening I was serving as the Night Administrator at my college. My duty was mainly to be in my office until 10pm in case something arose on campus that needed special attention. Between 8pm and 10pm, there was maybe one class in session, far away from my building. I would be the sole person in the 2-story building, and it was dark, still, and creepy.
I went to YouTube to pass the time and hit upon a lecture by one of Daddy’s favorites: Alan Watts, a popular writer and speaker on Zen Buddhism. His talk on mysticism electrified me, and I understood why Daddy felt such kinship with him.
Shortly after the video, I went to the empty ladies’ room. I felt a presence there and checked each stall, making sure some hobgoblin or local goon wasn’t lurking. Then the faucets began a symphony of turning on and off…each at different times and with a distinct melody. That’s when I knew it was my musician father. I had to laugh, but I also had to get out of there fast-like.
In all of these cases, there was a common thread: I was in a state of unadulterated focus when the “connection” was made. I had no distraction, no invading thoughts, no awareness or burdens of self. Instead, I was intensely in the moment, in the flow. I had drifted there innocently, not intentionally.
There’s a Zen saying that relates to this: “Absolute attention is prayer.” For me it was certainly altered consciousness of some sort.
Two days before his unexpected death, Daddy told me that he’d settled everything in this life and was committed to becoming a bodhisattva, a soul that foregoes nirvana in order to help the rest of us get closer to enlightenment. My teenaged self thought this was a heap of hogwash. My father a bodhisattva? Yeah, right.
As I write this, he’s been gone for thirty-five years and two days. A mighty expansive time. I’m reminded of the first and last of The Four Vows of the Bodhisattva.
The First Vow
Living beings are without number: I vow to row them to the other shore.
The Fourth Vow
The way is very long: I vow to arrive at the end.
In the seconds before I sense Daddy’s presence, there’s a feeling of being transported to another realm. It’s the signal that something unavoidably woo-woo is about to go down.
Despite decades of this, I would steadfastly attribute those sensations to a case of accidental self-hypnosis. I even checked with the campus plumber to find out if the symphony of the sinks had a practical explanation (it did not).
I continue to revisit the message he gave me that day. I am slowly loosening up on myself. I know I have a long way to go. Like everyone else, I have that one last glistening river to cross before I’m there. But I have finally realized–and accepted–that I have my very own bodhisattva to row me to the shore.