What Losing My Father Taught Me About Father’s Day

Fathers Day Krystal Penrose

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

– Theodore Hesburgh

24 years ago, my mom sat on her bathroom floor, impatiently awaiting the results to the pregnancy test she held in her hand.

Within minutes, a pink “+” sign began to appear. With tears swelling up in her eyes and a smile forming on her face, that was the moment my mom knew her life would change in the most profound way.

Unfortunately, my mother’s selfish, drug addict fiance didn’t feel the same way. When she told him the news that day, he gave her a choice:  get an abortion, or get out.

The decision was easy for her to make.

She took one last look at her fiance, thought about collecting her belongings that were messily scattered (and mostly broken) on her front lawn, put the keys in her ignition, and drove away. That was the last time my mom would ever see my biological father.

Fast forward six months later.

Through a series of coincidences, my mom ran into her longtime best friend that she hadn’t seen in years. His name was Dennis Penrose. He was kind, thoughtful, and loved so selflessly that he often forgot about himself.

After meeting over a “mocktail” and learning about her situation, Dennis took my mom in and helped her through her breakup. He cooked, cleaned and even took her to her doctors appointments. Living together and spending 24 hours a day together, it didn’t my mom and Dennis very long to fall head-over-heels in love.

When I was born on January 10th, 1989, Dennis would be the one to name me. He was the second person to hold me. He even sewed my umbilical cord. He was my father in every sense of the word.

Growing up, my mom and I were his princesses, and he made sure we knew it everyday.

On my third Christmas, my mom and I woke up to a huge surprise. Dennis set-up a beautiful Christmas tree complete with dozens of presents for each of us. He sprinkled “reindeer dust” on our porch, assembled a train that took up our own living room and even put his pride aside and bought us all matching onesie pajamas. It was on this day that my mom realized that she finally had the family she always wished for.

Our family had many rituals that kept us close, but my personal favorite was our Friday afternoon ritual. My mom would take off the day from work and we would spend the whole day on the couch watching cartoons and movies. Then, we’d take a nap on the couch while waiting for Dennis to come home from work. Every Friday, without fail, he would always wake us up with a fresh bouquet of beautiful flowers.

But on February 2, 1993, Dennis didn’t come home.

He was hit by a drunk driver, and his head hit the steering wheel so hard that it swelled up  seven times its size. When my mom got to the hospital, the doctors told her that he was in a coma and they weren’t sure if he was going to wake up.

My mom didn’t want to give up on him, so for seven days, she sat next to his hospital bed.

After seven days of not eating, showering or sleeping,  the doctor ordered my mom to go home and at least take a shower.

On her way back to the hospital, she got the phone call.

Dennis had passed away.

I still think to this very day that Dennis waited until my mom wasn’t there to die. She wasn’t strong enough to endure that and he knew it. Even on his deathbed, Dennis put his family before himself.

Ironically, his funeral fell on Valentine’s Day. After the service, my mom would spend the next 37 days in bed, puffy-eyed and depressed. She was broken and alone. It wasn’t easy watching that as a three-year-old.

One day, when my mom was sleeping, I went into her closet and found a Valentine’s Day card the size of me. On the front it said “To the one I love on Valentine’s Day.”

I woke my mom up and asked her to read the card to me. She read it aloud, slowly. It said: “Roses are red, violets are blue, you and I are meant to be. Forever me and you.”

After reading the card, my mom held me for a long time and wept. After about an hour of holding me, she dried her eyes and got up. She gathered all of Dennis’ clothes, watches, shoes and jackets and put them into garbage bags. She kept a few of her favorite things and put them into the bottom drawer of the dresser in my bedroom. I was told to never open the bottom drawer of my dresser again. She said it was “full of things she wasn’t ready to remember just yet.”

The next day, my mom and I went to the Secretary of State office. She had both of our last names changed to Penrose, which was Dennis’ last name. Even though they weren’t married, Dennis was a father and a husband to my mom and I. And for that, he deserved to be remembered.

21 years have passed by since Dennis passed away.

My mom has remarried, and we don’t really mention Dennis anymore. But, most years on Valentine’s Day we’ll visit his grave together and talk about the times we shared with him.

On my 24th birthday this year,  I remembered that my mom and Dennis were 24 when they met. It only felt right to open that bottom drawer after all of those years of remaining untouched. In it, I found pictures of us in our matching onesies, pictures of a day we spent at the park, and tons and tons of love letters my mom and Dennis exchanged almost every single day. Some of these love letters were on post-it notes, some were on napkins, and some were pages and pages long.

The one that stuck out most to me read was on a post-it note. It read: “I’ll never love you more than I do in this very moment. Please remember that.” That note was written just a few weeks before Dennis passed away. After reading it, I sat in my bed and stared at those words and cried for a long, long time. Throughout my entire life, I didn’t know what unconditional love even looked like, and in this very moment, I was staring it right in the eyes.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if Dennis didn’t die.

I wonder what it’d be like to experience the hand holding, the storytelling, the daddy daughter dances, and sometimes I even close my eyes and imagine Dennis walking me down the aisle on my wedding day.

I was only three years old when Dennis died, but through his presence and his absence, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned what selflessness, passion, and true character are. I’ve learned that God doesn’t always keep you around for as long as you expect, so make the best of it. But most of all, I learned that the most important thing you can give somebody is unconditional love.

If there’s anyway I could bring Dennis back today, I’d tell him this:

Thank you for giving your life to save my mother’s. Thank you for being a father to a child who wasn’t even biologically yours. Most of all, though, thank you for showing me the kind of unconditional love I want to find in my own life. When I do find it, I know you’ll be there, watching over me.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

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  1. kimstacey

    Hey, woman friend. You said it all, and said it so well. Thank you for being so open with us all. And thanks to funeralOne, for giving you the space to write from the heart. You’ve reminded us all, very gently, of the power within this “Hallmark” holiday.

  2. Molly Keating

    Beautiful post Krystal. I love the idea of “If I could bring my loved one back today, I’d tell them this . . . ” – what a powerful and healing experience it must have been to write that down. Thank you so much for sharing the tragedy of your loss, the wisdom you have gained, and the reality of your Father’s Day.

    molly

  3. CalebWilde

    Okay, I’m tearing up. Thank you Krystal for being able and vulnerable enough to make such a beautiful story available for all of us.

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  5. Chris

    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man! Thank you for sharing the lessons you’ve learned….so touching!

  6. Krystal

    Thanks so much Chris! I appreciate the comments 🙂

  7. Krystal

    Thanks Caleb! It took a lot out of me to put this into the world… but it was well worth it! Thanks also for sharing it with your following… I do appreciate it. Hope you enjoyed your Father’s Day 🙂

  8. Krystal

    Molly,

    So nice to hear from you here, thanks so much! I know everyone has something they’d like to say to someone they lost, and I found writing it down did wonders.

    PS. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you. Expect an email from me today 🙂

  9. Krystal

    Hi Kim, I hope you’re doing well! I found myself letting a few tears out while writing it but man was this fun to write! Vulnerability always helps us during the healing process… and for the writing process as well!

    Love ya, Kim! Good to hear from you here.

  10. kimstacey

    Doing well enough, Krystal. Thank you for the love, and of course you know I send a batch of my own right back to you. I always enjoy your writing – no matter the subject.

  11. CalebWilde

    My facebook community loved it so much I shared it twice : )

  12. Huda

    Beautiful and very touching! I lost my dad recently to cancer… I close my eyes all the time and imagine him next to me, imagine him watching me walk the stage.. or walk me down the aisle .. he might be gone, but he’s alive in my heart. Thanks for sharing this.

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