As I sit here, still sick, still grieving from the loss of my father, I am thinking about how this loss was the devastating force behind so much of what I have done over the last year or so. Since yesterday was Father’s Day, I write this in his honor, just as I created the character of Roy Vogler, in Check Out Time, for my dad.
If I remember correctly, Dad’s accident was on January 23, 2010. I was determined to believe that he would recover, despite the stroke, and that things would continue as they had. I pictured myself moving back to Pennsylvania, driving over to his house and visiting Dad and my sisters, having dinner with him, all of us echoing the same sentiment: “Dear God, we came so close to losing you.”
This fantasy didn’t come to fruition. I lost Dad, for the second time in my life. I had three years to get to know my father all over again. I cannot even begin to describe how grateful I am for those three years. I try not to think about the what-ifs and the maybes. There have been a lot of moments where I have thought to myself, “If only I had contacted him sooner.” But the fact is, we reconnected when we did, and I have to accept that fact. In reality, things were the way they had to be.
But, oh! To be sitting across from him and realize how much we had in common. It was a mind-boggling experience. I tried to make Roy Vogler as close to the character of my father as possible, but I probably didn’t succeed %100. After all, the circumstances in my book are different, and Roy’s daughter isn’t completely me. There are aspects of Naomi Vogler that match my personality, but there are many things about the two of us that are different. Fact versus fiction– a novel doesn’t have to be accurate, it just has to entertain. But in my case, Check Out Time is not just a piece of entertainment fiction; it is an expression of how much I miss and love my father, the real Roy Vogler– Dennis Godshall, Sr.
Those of you who know me well enough will ask me if I’ve seen him. Yes, I have. I can get ready for bed at night and firmly ask, “Dad, I would like to see you in my dream tonight. Please visit me.” He will be there.
I know that I am not alone. He is far away, and it’s not easy for him to visit, but he manages it. It usually happens when I’m driving. I get the distinct impression that I am not alone. Very shortly after his death, on February 17, 2012, I was in school and I kept hearing people say things that sounded like something Dad would say. The feeling grew stronger when I heard someone whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith Show; that was something that Dad did well. When I went outside that night, there was no one behind me in the dark parking lot, and I felt a distinct tug on my sweatshirt. I knew it was Dad.
Our loved ones never really leave us. I know that Dad watches over me. The last time I saw him in the nursing home, I held his hand. When I cried, his forehead crinkled, and he stared fixedly at me the whole time. His lips parted as if he wanted to speak, but he couldn’t. I told him, “Dad, if you come to visit me, I will know it’s you. I will see you. We’ll never be all that far from each other.”
I am not well. As I try to recover from my physical sickness, I feel the hurt in my heart. The only photograph that I have of Dad and I, taken months or a year before his accident, is sitting by my laptop. I see his face every day. And I consider how this heartbreak drove me to change my life in some very large ways.
I remember standing in Dad’s house and saying excitedly, “Dad, I’m writing a book with you in it! You’re going to be one of the characters.”
Now, I want to say to my father, “Dad, I wish you could be here to see this book with you in it. I miss you more than I can say.”
I solved my own personal Mystery when I was reunited with my father. I saw how alike we were, and it was an eye-opener for me. In Check Out Time, Roy says to Naomi, “Like father, like daughter.” It’s the same in real life. After Dad’s accident, I made a concrete decision to go to school for Automotive, and decided that, one day, I would open my own automotive repair shop. Dad has influenced my life so much. I am always thinking, “I wish he were here to see it.”
But then I remember– He is here. And he always will be.