August 16, 2009

When Elvis Left the Building

Thirty-two years ago. A lifetime. But not even a lifetime. Thirty-two years ago today my father died. He left behind a young wife and two young sons and a lifetime of “what ifs.”

And thirty-two years ago, my mother had the presence of mind to write down the details in my brother’s baby book. It reads:

“Aug. 16, 1977 Benjamins and Matt’s daddy died tonight at about 7:30 p.m. He had bought a 1942 dump truck. He was going to start his own hauling business to make extra money for his family. He picked up the truck about 5:30 p.m. at Rancho Lynn in Corralitos. He drove it back to Aromas and took it up to Seely Ave to have Rick and Pam Fischer look at it. He knew the breaks were bad. But he thought he could make it in 1st gear down their driveway. Well he couldn’t. He tried to jump out and I’m not sure what caused his death. He died enroute to the hospital. Elvis Presley died the same day. I loved him. Sept. 1st would have been our 9th anniversary.”

Since this is my de-facto baby book, I wanted to write to my own children about this significant event in my life.

Dear Swee’Pea and TheMonk,

This week, for some interesting reason, you began asking me about my father. Especially you, Monk, and I could tell that the questions were being asked for more than general knowledge. You asked how he died. You asked why he died. You asked what happened to him after he died. And in the back of your mind, as you digested my answers (which I tried to do in an honest, yet gentle, way), I could tell that what you were really asking was, “Daddy, are you going to die?”

And that, my son, is my greatest fear. You are too young to explain how my entire life has been shaped by my father dying. You are too young to understand that the reason I am so devoted to you and your sister is that I want every. moment. to. count. I want you to know that, even if I were to die tomorrow, being your Daddy is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have written about this topic a few times and once even wrote a letter to my own father but when it comes to explaining death and looking into your eyes and seeing the confusion and the fear that you won’t be with me anymore makes my heart ache for you… and for me.

And as I told you this week, yes, I will die. But my fervent hope is that I will die someday in the future when you are confident enough to travel on this journey without needing the guidance of your father. I don’t want you, Monkey, to grow up wondering what it means to be a man. I don’t want you growing up having to figure out how to hold a hammer or how to shave your face or how to ask a girl out on a date. And, Swee’Pea, I don’t want you growing up wanting something from a man and searching in vain because you didn’t get it from me. I pray that by the time I die you will both miss me but not really need me.

I want to tell you how much I love you. I want to tell you that when I look down at your face as you are looking up at mine, I see your future and how very much I want to be a part of that. And I think of my own father and how much he missed and I am sad for him while my own heart aches from a hurt that never really goes away. I am reminded that my father wasn’t there to see my first hit in baseball. He wasn’t there to hear about my first crush. He wasn’t the one to teach me to drive or celebrate my running victories. He wasn’t there to see me graduate from high school or college or graduate school. He wasn’t there to see me get married or to see your beautiful faces for the first time. He missed so, so much. And my worst fear in the world is that I will miss those too.

And as tears stream down my face as I type this and the words are blurred as they appear on my screen, all I can tell myself, and tell you, is that I will do my best to be here for you. I will do everything I can to make sure that I wake up to be with you and share your life with you and guide you in ways that I never had. I want to teach you the joy of love and the comfort of humor and the mystery of the infield fly rule. I want to watch over you and help you grow into confident adults who know their father loves them and is their biggest fan. I want that for you. And I want that for me.

Death is the one certainty of life, my little ones. We don’t know when we will go and that makes it so much more important to embrace each day as the gift it is. I try not to forget that. It is why I am an optimist. It is why I will dance with you when you take the lead and it is why I probably say yes too often and no not enough. But it’s also why I say no when I really want to say yes and I say yes when I really want to say no. I want you to have what I lost thirty-two years ago today. I want you to have the comfort of knowing your father and knowing that he will love you and cherish you forever.


My brother and I both wrote on this topic today. Please read his post as well.


  1. What a beautiful post. Well, at least the words that I could read through my own tears. Your kids are lucky to have you. So sorry for your loss. (((hugs)))

    Comment by EmmieJ — August 16, 2009 @ 12:07 am

  2. I lost my mother when I was 11, and while I don’t have kids of my own (yet), your post rang very true with me. The time I did have with my mother allowed me to realize what an amazing woman and parent she was, and yet she wasn’t there for most of the milestones you mentioned and that loss has affected me deeply too.

    Thank you for putting my worries into words (far better than I ever could!) and at the same time making me less worried about becoming a parent myself someday.

    Comment by Sarah — August 16, 2009 @ 4:14 am

  3. So incredibly beautiful.

    Comment by Jen — August 16, 2009 @ 5:35 am

  4. Beautiful. Your children are lucky to have such a caring dad.

    Comment by Daisy — August 16, 2009 @ 6:19 am

  5. I came via Twitter. Such a tragedy to lose a parent so young, and of course it never really goes away.

    This post is a testament to the fact that people die, but relationships don’t.

    I especially liked the gentle honest way you communicate these massive feelings to your children.

    May your father’s memory be a blessing for you and for them.

    Comment by Anns Rants — August 16, 2009 @ 6:20 am

  6. Ohhhhh, man. Nothing like starting my day with a sob.

    I am so sorry for your loss, and grateful you’re letting us mark it with you. I have no doubt in my mind you are a phenomenal dad.

    Comment by maggie, dammit — August 16, 2009 @ 7:07 am

  7. Heartbreaking and so loving, thank you for sharing Matt. Your children are incredibly blessed to have you.

    Comment by Laurie — August 16, 2009 @ 7:31 am

  8. This was beautiful … so sad, but beautiful.

    I, too, am so sorry that your father wasn’t able to be present here for so much of your life.
    And I am so, SO proud of you for learning to and becoming such a wonderful father to Swee’Pea and TheMonk. They are very blessed.

    Comment by Allanna — August 16, 2009 @ 7:58 am

  9. Matt, very sorry for that long-ago loss. This is a wonderful post. And no, you didn’t make me cry. At all. Jerk.

    Comment by Karl — August 16, 2009 @ 8:11 am

  10. Well, you and your brother sure did get my tears flowing! I am so very sorry that you did not get to experience things with your father! I do think you are a great dad, and now I know why you embrace every moment! Thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Patty — August 16, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  11. Thank you for sharing that for the world to read. So touching!

    Comment by michelle@everydaycelebrating — August 16, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  12. This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.

    Comment by cindy w — August 16, 2009 @ 9:14 am

  13. This is a beautiful post Matthew. You and Ben completely made me bawl.

    I will tell you sort of the same thing I told your brother. Your dad, would be proud of the man you have become. This I believe with every fiber of my being.

    Tons of hugs my friend.

    Comment by Issa — August 16, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  14. This is just gorgeous. My dad died when I was 11; I so get every single word of this. Thinking of you and Ben today.

    Comment by Alicia — August 16, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  15. In 10 days it will be 25 years since I lost my dad. You’ve just inspired a blog post. Thanks, Matthew.

    Comment by Becky — August 16, 2009 @ 9:56 am

  16. Your kids are super lucky to have you.

    Comment by DCUrbanDad — August 16, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  17. I can’t stop crying over here. My dad died when I was eight, he was 37 years old. I often think about how many things would be different for me if he had lived. It is the single most impactful event of my life. None of my children are eight years old yet, but I sort of dread that day. Seeing my girls as the eight year old I was that lost her dad.

    Like I said on your brother’s blog. If only they had blogs in the 70′s and our fathers were smart enough to have one. I would give anything for that.

    Comment by Kirsten — August 16, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

  18. This is a lovely post.

    My mother lost her father when she was a year old to cancer. I can’t even begin to tell you the lifetime of what-ifs she still talks over.

    Comment by Deanna — August 16, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  19. This comment is in response to both Matt and Ben’s blogs.
    I have never forgotten this day. Every year I think about him all day long. Every year I cry. I wish I had the ability you both have to put into words what kind of man your Dad was, and how much he meant to me. But I think you know. More importantly, I wish I had the ability to put into words how much you meant to him. He loved you both sooooooo much! It’s amazing how much you both are like him. And Thomas is the spitting image of his namesake. Please know your Dad would be so proud! I sure am!

    Comment by Aunt Raina — August 16, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  20. You guys are getting me all teary-eyed today. As much as you want to be there for your kids? Your dad wanted to be there for you too. Your kids are lucky, however, that they have a dad who appreciates and realizes how precious every moment is. Big hugs to you!

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — August 16, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  21. This was beautiful and heartbreaking and sweet and wonderful. Thanks for sharing this day and this emotion with us.

    Comment by Jill — August 16, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  22. Simply beautiful. I have yet to write about my own father’s death when I was eleven, and how it affects the way I raise my girls. You’ve inspired me…

    Comment by Kari — August 16, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  23. After I read your posts, I went for a walk on West Cliff Drive. When we lose someone we love, we often tend to glorify, and nearly beatify him. We are left with the quandry of how to accurately portray him to those who were too young to remember. Here a few things that came to mind on my walk.
    1. He smoked at least two packs a day. He tried quitting but figured he liked being married more than being cancer free.
    2. He was not into baseball and football but he was into race cars.
    3. He drank Coors, lots of it, remember it was 1977 better beers were not on the shelves, yet.
    4. He hated shaving and sported a mustache and/or a goatee from time to time.
    5. He liked to dance but the guy had no rhythm.
    6. He didn’t like men who cheated on their wives
    7. He had a stormy relationship with his father.
    8. He spoke to his mother everyday.
    9. If his family needed him he would drop everything to rush to their side.
    10. He hated draft dodgers, remember he was a Viet Nam veteran.
    11. He believed in life after death. I am sure he was really pissed off that he left a lot sooner and unexpectedly than he wanted.
    12. He loved you both more than there are stars in the sky.

    Comment by Grandmother — August 17, 2009 @ 12:02 am

  24. Beautifully done Matt. Your kids are so lucky to have you. What a great legacy to leave them: your thoughts and feeling and your undying love & attention.

    I wrote the other day how simply *almost* losing my dad at a young age affected me and our relationship. That was hard enough. Although, I suppose when you love someone it’s never easy.

    Comment by Kate — August 17, 2009 @ 8:10 am

  25. I was doing OK until your mom chimed in. Now I’m going to have to go hide in the ladies’ room for a little while until I stop crying.

    I was a lot older than you when I lost my dad and the circumstances were so much different, but the loss is the same. Beautiful way to pass your feelings on to your kids.

    Comment by Maura — August 17, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  26. Beautifully written. And rancho lynn in corralitos was my bus stop. My parents live up past there.

    Comment by Miss Grace — August 17, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  27. I have no words, Matt.

    But lots of big. ugly. cry.

    Comment by Miss Britt — August 17, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  28. Beautifully written. I’m sitting here at my desk at work sniffling, holding back tears. Well done.

    Comment by Sandi — August 17, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  29. Beautiful. These words will be a wonderful treasure to your children, for all of time, no matter what the future holds.

    Comment by PsychMamma — August 17, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  30. Such a beautiful post. Your children are so fortunate to have you. **hugs**

    Comment by MommaSunshine — August 17, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

  31. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is so very hard–time doesn’t make it easier, the loss just as painful as it ever was. May God grant you a long and healthy life with your children.

    Comment by iheartgreen — August 17, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

  32. Big. Ugly. Cry.

    Apparently your post wasn’t enough because Grandma’s comment threw me over the edge.

    Comment by sam {temptingmama} — August 17, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

  33. SOB

    And geez, thanks for Grandma adding to it!

    Beautiful post. Really beautiful.

    Comment by pgoodness — August 17, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

  34. You even made me tear up. Bastard.

    Beautiful post, Matthew.

    Comment by Whit — August 18, 2009 @ 12:27 am

  35. This was a really touching post, and a beautiful letter. I’m sure your children will enjoy reading this, as part of your “baby book”, when they are older. They sure lucked out with their dad, not only because you are alive and well, but also because you are clearly a wonderful, wonderful dad.

    Comment by Elisa — August 18, 2009 @ 12:57 am

  36. A very touching post, thank you for sharing. Your children are very lucky to have such an awesome dad.

    Comment by PJ Mullen — August 18, 2009 @ 6:54 am

  37. Nice.

    Nice post. Nice of you to share with us. Nice of you to explain to the kids. Nice comments.

    Comment by above average joe — August 18, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  38. Bossy sure hopes this post comes with free tissues, because she’s fresh out and needs one.

    Comment by BOSSY — August 18, 2009 @ 11:15 am

  39. This is the first post of yours that I’ve read from beginning to end. It made me cry. It made me see what a dad should really be thinking and feeling. It educated me a little bit.

    I won’t miss another post, again.

    Comment by Zoeyjane — August 18, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

  40. we have a friend who lost her husband this very day (aug. 16), just 3 days ago. leaving behind a 1 year old and 2 year old. this is wonderful insight into how they may cope and deal as the children get older. thank you.

    Comment by rcme — August 19, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  41. this is just. oh. my. amazing.
    Your children are just so lucky to have you are their father.
    HUGS to you, friend ;)

    Comment by ali — August 19, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  42. Goodness. Such powerfully poignant posts. *HUGS* to you.

    Comment by Al_Pal — August 21, 2009 @ 5:57 am

  43. I made it through your post and your brothers without losing it. But I was just reading the comments and, dammit. Your mom made me cry.

    Comment by Becky — August 21, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

  44. I really identify with the fears that you’ve expressed here. My dad died when he was 50, and I was 23 – mostly in the “I miss him but don’t need him” stage, although he’s definitely missed some big milestones of mine now. I read in other blogs about parents comforting their separation anxiety-ridden children, saying things like “mommy will always come back” but I’m afraid to say those things to my son. Because I can’t guarantee that I’ll always come back, as much as I desperately hope that I will. It’s the struggle/fear that I most need to release to God, but the hardest one.

    Comment by Kara — August 21, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

  45. I know of what you speak. My father died when I was seven (I recently wrote about him in a post on my blog called “History.”) My husband’s father died when he was about the same age. Both deaths were unexpected and terrible, like your father’s. I’m so sorry. I also feel like losing him so young has shaped a huge part of me.

    Comment by Stimey — August 26, 2009 @ 3:25 pm

  46. Matthew, you and Benjamin are so articulate in conveying the effect that losing your father had on your lives.
    We lived next door to you from August, 1975, until the spring of 1978, so I have many memories of your family. We passed your home as we drove to ours and you probably remember my husband, John (we miss him so much; he died in October, 2006), Kathy (me,), and our son, Peter.
    I woke up this morning thinking about your family. Not the first time, but this morning I got on the computer and typed a few words in the browser; the first thing I saw was Benjamin’s website.
    It seems longer than 30 plus years…..I’ll never forget the sad night when a neighbor knocked on our door and told us your Dad had been killed. I’d talked to him just a few hours earlier when I was at the house visiting with your Mom and he came home from work briefly. He was about to pick up the truck and very enthusiastic about the new endeavor, as you probably know he planned to clean up construction sites and use the truck for hauling debris.
    I’m sure you’ve heard many stories about him that convey the fact he was an exceptional human being. He had a zest for life that’s rare and this fact somehow made his death even more tragic.
    If you’re interested in hearing my numerous recollections of those Aromas Days, let me know. Many funny stories and some not-so-funny – - like the time you sat down smack in the middle of poison oak.
    Please say “Hi” to your Mom. She was so brave during those difficult times, and it couldn’t have been easy. I hope life has been good to her.
    Your old neighbor,

    Comment by Kate Sinacori — November 3, 2009 @ 11:19 am

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