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Dad's influence embedded deeply in my heart

Roxane Salonen

On a frigid, black night in January 2013, my father's soul slipped away. The day of this writing, it's been exactly five years.

I've written about Dad before, and will again. His influence on me has become only more pronounced in death.

Dad would be the first to admit he didn't live up to his potential. As a teen, the youngest son in a family of nine kids in New Rockford, N.D., he loved children and the written word, aspiring to be a priest, poet or teacher.

He ended up in the seminary, but shortly after receiving the telegram that his mother — who'd been so influential in mostly every aspect of his life — had passed unexpectedly, he left. Her death had sent him spinning.

His desire for a family began to grow, and eventually, he met and married my mother, and the two began their lives together as teachers, and soon, parents to two little girls.

In time, though, the addictive curse triumphed, and for many years, Dad abandoned his teaching career, his beautiful gift of writing, even his faith.

But even in those drifting years, he continued reaching out to the vulnerable — a kind word here, a joke there — showing compassion in quiet, inconspicuous ways.

These small things, though hidden, mattered. They were a profound gift to me from Dad, though he didn't even know I was looking.

Despite his limitations, and the years those watching from the outside might deem wasted, Dad found ways to infuse invaluable insight into my heart; wisdom I wouldn't fully appreciate until years later, after his death.

But none carried the weight of his greatest gift to me: love, plain and simple, pure and powerful.

As he lay on his deathbed, breathing belabored, unable to respond to my presence, it rose up strong. And at his last breath, in that holy moment, it was as if all the love he'd ever felt for me, even when I was unaware, became visible.

Ironically, because of Dad's confines — hearing loss and a general slowdown from effects of diabetes — since his death, I've felt his overwhelming love and life even more. In ways he couldn't be with me toward the end, he is with me now, deeply felt at times when I am nearest to God, like at Mass, and in glimpses of him I see in our children, and reminders of things he'd say and the ways he'd say them.

What Dad taught me about love — especially his love for me — has become an irreplaceable treasure that lives on in me every single day, and in every kind act I carry out.

Dad may be gone from sight, but the veil is thin, and love, eternal.