“This is my baby, Presh. I call her Presh, because she is precious.”
Dad would always introduce me as his “Presh.” It would be the first thing he would tell a stranger that would come across our path. I would get quizzical looks from people because I was a woman in my thirties, not a baby or toddler. But once he explained the nickname they would smile and I would give a shy and slightly embarrassed head nod.
I hope Dad knew how much that little nickname meant to me.
When Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012 I flew from California to visit my parents a few months later right before Christmas. Dad was still every bit my dad, but his disease was noticeable for the first time. Amongst all the reassurances that he would be fine from friends and family, I knew better. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. So I cried. For days and days I cried. When I emerged from my pain, I had a coat of armor. For the next five years, my father deteriorated in front of my eyes, both physically and mentally. We were losing him, but I didn’t cry. I was strong for him and my family. I owed him that. Every time I was hurt or scared I was comforted by his words, “It’ll be fine. You’ll be okay.” These simple words were never empty to me because they came from a man of incredible strength. And he was always right. So I never worried or cried for long.
My armor protected me as I had to witness his suffering from disease, as I had to say goodbye, as I had to lay to him to rest. Now what?
From those that have lost their parents, I have been warned that it will hit me all of a sudden, or that I will need to take time to reflect. I think today, Father’s Day, is a fitting day. So, let it hit me.
You know who could help me through this grief? Dad. I think that is what is so hard for me. It’s not the father I had that I will miss, but the father I will need in the future that I am devastated to not have. Who will tell me that it will be fine, that I will be okay? If I succeed in any area of my life, I can’t see his smile and the pride on his face. I can’t share new experiences with him. I can’t reminisce any more. Remembering Dad is easy, thinking of my future without him is what hurts. And it hurts like hell.
So first I will remember him. A lot of daughters are thinking about their dads today, and lucky ones, like me, grew up with an amazing father. Dad and I had drastically different childhoods. My dad didn’t have an amazing dad. My father’s childhood was nothing short of tragic. How he emerged with a sense of humor and a love of life is beyond me, but he did follow in his father’s footsteps for a while and became an alcoholic. As an adult, I learned more about his first life, before he gave up drinking. It was filled with anger and grief, betrayal and loss. In April of 1987, my father fell on his knees, gave his life to Christ and gave up drinking. I was three years old at the time, the youngest of his four children. He never had another drink. I don’t remember any of this. I only remember that I would run into his arms and jump on him to play and he would wince in pain because he was recovering from cirrhosis. That was the only trace of his previous life I could see growing up. He played me with anyway.
My childhood was radically different. My father was not an alcoholic. He was always around. He taught me about landscaping and planting trees and rose bushes, although his lessons never really landed. He let me ride the tractor and even though my constant need for attention delayed his work, he would always indulge me. He taught me how to play basketball and ride a bike. He taught me how to saddle a horse, and how to take care of animals because they take care of us. He would joke that I was spoiled, and I was. Not only because I had a 90’s Barbie collection that my mother would describe as “ridiculous,” but because unlike my father, I had a Dad that was my constant guide, counselor and friend. Our relationship only strengthened as I grew older. How was it he was able to give me this? He was so broken before. I believe it was his faith that healed his brokenness and only a miracle of God that I had such a loving Dad.
Dad wasn’t just healed for my benefit. He dedicated himself to his career in law enforcement. He helped so many people. He had witnessed depravity, murder, kidnapping, child abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence and the list goes on. He wasn’t spared further pain after giving up drinking. He lost his son, my older half-brother, in 1991, but instead of turning back to the bottle he again prayed. At that time, I remember Dad spending a lot of time outside planting. I remember him sitting in his recliner staring into space. As a child, I didn’t understand. As an adult, I still don’t understand how he could face such unspeakable pain and then turn that pain into a way to help others. There are so many parents that lose their children to gun violence. My dad delivered the news. He could comfort in ways no one else could. He also reached out to fellow officers who battled alcoholism and told his story openly and honestly. He founded a Bible study called, “Cops for Christ,” a place for public servants to share their stories, pray together, find comfort in the Word and learn more about faith from priests, ministers and pastors from different churches and communities.
Dad never shared with me the tragedy he witnessed in the field. He wanted to protect me from that as long as he could. One lesson that he may never know landed, was to love thy neighbor. Seems simple enough, but much harder in practice. All kinds of people would turn to my dad for help. They could be the recipient of a speeding ticket or the victim of a violent crime. They could be wealthy or they could be poor. He tried to help everyone he could, and he wanted me to witness that. If you needed food, Dad got you food. If you needed a place to stay and park the trailer, our yard was your home. If you needed a little money, Dad could find some work for you (even if he could do it himself). As a child, I never understood why Dad would surround himself with all these needy characters. As an adult, I know that he was following the footsteps of Christ. He would not judge you based on your social class, political party or the sins of your past. Everyone falls short, and everyone needs a helping hand. My dad was a recipient of grace and forgiveness, and he never forgot it.
That’s the lesson I hope he knows I got in the end. Everyone deserves another chance to become better, to do better. And there are those, like my Dad, who finally take the opportunity to create a life they never thought possible.
Dad left a lot of different memories with different people. Many were touched by his life. When I remember him as only I can as his daughter, I am truly humbled. My father was by no means perfect, but to me, there was no one more perfect to be my dad.
Now I must move forward, which is much harder than remembering. When Dad took his last breath, his suffering was over, but for our family, the world stopped spinning. How is it possible to live in a world that no longer contains Lawrence Romero? My grief, of course, is selfish. But, I must deal with it when it hits me hard on days like today. I must move forward by remembering what I promised him when I said goodbye.
Tell His Story
Dad was worried that he didn’t have the chance to reach more people. He wanted to help more people suffering from alcoholism. He wanted to let them know that it wasn’t hopeless. I didn’t battle alcoholism like my parents and grandparents because that battle was waged on my behalf. Dad broke the cycle. My father’s example reminds me that this disease is incredibly dangerous and that I don’t need alcohol to tame my sorrow – I have my faith and my family. Because I have not battled alcoholism myself, I cannot help others the way that my father could. But I can tell his story in hopes that it provides a real example of triumph over adversity, any adversity, and that there is mercy and forgiveness for those that seek it.
Take Care of Mom
I did tell Dad that I would take care of Mom although I laughed when I said it. Mom took care of not only Dad but she took care of me. She is a strong, independent woman, and she is going to do what she wants when she wants no matter what I say. But I can fulfill this promise by being supportive as she learns how to put herself first for the first time in 35 years. Mom is smart and resilient, so all I can really do is watch her embark on a new adventure. I know she will do incredible things. I have no doubt. I’ll give my two cents here and there, but taking care of Mom means making sure that she knows she is loved beyond measure. Dad wasn’t always a prince charming (to say the least), but he loved her deeply. So, Dad, know that she is not alone, and that even though you are not here, she is still loved here on earth, very deeply.
This is the hard one. I told Dad I would be okay. It’s so much harder to be okay without him here to tell me that everything will be fine and I’ll be okay. Even when he was sick he would have moments of lucidity that he would use to tell me that it was okay. He lived in a prison. He could barely move and he was in so much pain at times. He was fearfully confused from dementia, but he would still try to comfort me. Oh, Dad, I never told you how hurt and angry I was that you got sick. Being okay was easier somehow when you were here. The world was safer with you in it. It made more sense somehow. But dammit, I’m going to be okay. I have a family that loves and comforts me and I have work left to do. More than that, I have your words. You may have left, but you left behind your words of comfort. I’ll listen to you still. You stayed strong when struggle came, and I am, after all, your daughter. I’ll always be yours. Your Presh.