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About the absence

Photo courtesy of Kate Burton Photography

One week ago today, in the middle of a crisp, technicolor Sunday afternoon, my dad passed away. That’s the reason for my long absence. And for his.

I thought I’d share the few words I spoke about his life at our family’s memorial services yesterday. If a better man ever lived, I didn’t have the chance to know him.

*   *   *

Near bedtime one summer night when Allison was five and I was an exceedingly mature nine, a small spider showed up uninvited to the hallway outside our bedrooms. It wasn’t the kind of spider that jumps, or the kind that bites, or even the kind with the furry legs. But you wouldn’t have known any of that from the tone in Allison’s voice when she screamed bloody murder for Dad.

Always prepared, and always well-read, Dad grabbed the TIME magazine from the top of the pile and rolled it into a blunt weapon. I don’t think he liked spiders one bit more than Allison did. But when you sign up to teach a couple of little girls how to face the world with the same grace and the same abundant perspective that you yourself have shown every day of your life, spider extermination is simply a job requirement.

The problem was, the spider ran away before Dad got to the hallway. Dad couldn’t find it. If he couldn’t find it, he couldn’t kill it. And if he couldn’t kill it, little Allison couldn’t sleep.

Or so he thought. But then, as Dad often did, he took the time to think again. And he did something that perfectly characterized his elegant approach to solving all of life’s little problems, and to facing its big ones.

As Mom and I looked on, Dad tightened his grip on the magazine. He checked to see that Allison was safely out of view. He made direct, silent eye contact with Mom, then with me. I think I saw him raise an eyebrow just a touch, and I know I saw that fleeting, telltale Frank Gratzer gleam in his eye. He raised the magazine into the air. Then, with one swift, solid blow, he swatted the empty ground.

He waited a moment. He chose his words carefully.

“Okay, Allison!” he said.

“Okay, Dad,” she said, and went safely to sleep.

Later, he called me over for a little post-game wrap-up. He needed to be sure that I understood the integrity in his approach, and he wanted to be sure that I saw the humor in it.

It’s a trivial example, but that’s the point. Dad taught us all the important lessons about living a good life choice by choice, day by day. Always show up when you’re needed. Be prepared. Think critically in pursuit of the greater good. When you have to make a choice between getting the job done perfectly and making your family feel safe and loved, always choose your family.

And when you’ve done your best on all of those fronts every day of your life, you won’t have to sweat the small stuff. Not even if it has eight legs.

Dad, I never ran out of things to learn from the way you lived your life, and I know I never will. When I take the time to think again, there will always be more to see.


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  3. Isabella

    Hi Carolyn, I just read this now – a year later. You are so blessed to have a wonderful dad, he is still with you and always will be – although we deeply miss his physical presence. Your tribute is so beautiful – and your Dad must have always been so proud of you! You and your family are a bright bright light in this world! Keep doing what you’re doing! See you soon, Izzy

  4. Carina

    hi carolyn – a bit delayed, i’m afraid – i do occasionally read your blog but must not have seen this one, only alerted to the fact that your father had passed from jen’s comment to you on her blog. as i read your tribute, i could actually hear your father’s voice even thought i haven’t heard it in over a decade – i always liked his voice. 🙂 i’m sorry for your and your family’s loss – your father will be dearly missed by all.

  5. Stephen Zaklukiewicz


    I also had the opportunity to read your Dad’s remarkable obituary. Please accept our sincere condolences from Hoboken.

  6. Such a sweet post about your dad. So sorry to hear. I can’t even imagine how you are feeling. Will keep you in my thoughts 🙂

  7. Huyen

    Carolyn, I am so very very sorry for you loss. The lessons that we learn from our fathers, whether simple or profound, shape us in ways that we can never imagine possible as kids. Thank you for sharing this touching tribute and wonderful lesson with us.

  8. A lovely tribute to your dad. So wonderfully written. So sorry for your loss.

  9. Thank you, everyone, for the kind thoughts, and for sharing your own experiences. Every little bit helps. xx

  10. Rona

    My deepest sympathy to you and your family. Thank you for sharing such a sweet and touching story that reveals what a wonderful father he was.

  11. jill

    my heart stopped a bit when I read this. I have always longed for a father like yours, and sounds so much like what my catalogue-ordered father would have been. I am so, so sorry for your tremendous loss and yet joyful for his presence in your life in equal measure. what a fabulous picture and beautiful words. His personality comes through in your writing (of the tribute and of this blog)

    hang in there, girl…

  12. Heather

    I am so sorry for your loss. My father passed away 3 years ago at just 48 years old. The pain dulls after awhile, and luckily, you’re left with fond memories and passing thoughts of a phenomenal man who shaped your life.

  13. Your writing brought the tears to my eyes, even though I still have both of my parents with me. I feel sad for you, and nothing anybody says would bring your dad back. But being a wonderful father is a legacy that will stay with you and your sister much longer that your sorrow. And that is one of the most important things in life.

  14. I’m so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful tribute.

  15. foodgeeklee

    So sorry to hear of your loss – being the daughter of a man who makes me feel like a princess everytime I am in his presence, I can understand the significance of your loss. May you always carry his strong presence with you. Your tribute to him was most eloquent.

  16. amy

    so sad to hear of your loss. what a perfectly perfect tribute to your father. so touching-and I don’t even know you or your family. I must admit, I was concerned when there were no new posts…I knew it must be something more than “just life.” Please know that those of us “out here” are thinking of you. Wishing you support and strength as you and your family cope. Thank you for sharing.

  17. heartfelt condolences for your loss, carolyn. what an amazing man.

  18. i am so sorry for your loss and i know what a difficult time you’re going through. I’m 34 years old and have lost both of my parents….and am coming up on the 2nd anniversary of my dad’s passing on November 9th. all i can say is keep writing, keep depending on the people around you, turn to your blog when you need to – it’s the most unjudgemental open ear you have, talk, cry, do whatever feels like grieving to you.

    thank you for sharing your story and this time in your life with us. your post is beautiful.

    – t*

  19. Anne

    Carolyn, as always, you found the perfect words. I love when you say, “When you have to make a choice between getting the job done perfectly and making your family feel safe and loved, always choose your family.” I hope to carry that same sentiment with me always. What a fantastic photograph. Tender, special, everlasting moments you will treasure forever. You and your family are in our prayers.

  20. carrie

    Sorry to hear about your loss. I too lost my dad this year and time doesn’t make it any easier… but in some ways it makes you stronger .. and more driven so that you could be the best person to make him proud…
    Wishing you and your family strength….

  21. What a lovely tribute to your dad. I know from personal experience what a hard time this is and I’m sending thoughts of peace for you as you make your way through it.

  22. Tears in my eyes as I read this, thanks for sharing with us, and so so sorry for your loss. Thinking of you and your family. Hugs to all.

  23. Hi, I just read your very touching post and am so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounded like a wonderful man, and I will be thinking of and praying for you both. Call if you need anything. xoxoxo Julie