It was one year ago today that we lost my father-in-law, Charlie, to lung cancer. It was fast, confusing, distressing, heartbreaking, and a whole host of things.
Charlie and I had a strange relationship. When Caroline and I first started dating, I was this hulking, quiet, bear of a guy that was suddenly in his daughter’s life. He had no idea who I was or what I was like. I barely talked. He cracked jokes, as he always did, and I barely reacted.
After a few years, though, it became clear that Caroline and I were in a serious relationship, and I also started opening up. I remember clearly the day the ice broke completely, for me, and I truly felt like I was part of the Moore family.
I’d been struggling in school; I had been for years. My academic performance had descended to the point where I was deathly afraid–literally afraid for my life–that my flesh-and-blood father would do me harm. I was put on academic probation. I was close to being put on academic suspension. The university had sent my father a letter.
Dear Lord, I thought I was going to die.
When all of this went down, Caroline and I had been visiting her parents for a long weekend. I honestly forget how the subject came up, I just remember it was late at night and Charlie finally confronted me about what was going on. He asked me one question that no one else had bluntly asked me before:
“What are you really afraid of?”
That was the moment I realized how terrified of my own father I was. I realized that it didn’t matter what my academic performance was. None of it mattered. I’d been living in fear, soul-rending fear for so long that I’d lost track of what really mattered.
That was the first time I’d cried, really cried, since I was a child. Since before my mother passed away. The last time I’d cried like that, my mother had held me in her arms.
And you know what happened next?
Charlie hugged me.
It was an unexpected gesture, but exactly what I needed at that moment. And that one gesture told me I was part of his family, he understood me, and he cared about me.
From that moment on, he and I had a much better relationship. We had our ups and downs, our spats. I definitely pissed him off a few times. But we talked a lot, we laughed and joked, and we worked together.
There’s a reason I took my wife’s name when we were married, and this is part of it.
So last year, when we lost Charlie, I lost not only my father-in-law, but a dear friend and someone who was much more a father to me than my own was.
To Charlie: Wherever in the ‘verse you are now, I hope they are treating you right.