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Sobbing in a Steak House on Publication Day

“If they didn’t want me crying in the middle of their restaurant, then they shouldn’t have been playing that song.”

On release day of Stealing Ares, I found myself at a Longhorn Steakhouse sobbing, but look, it’s not my fault. If there’s any song in the world that reminds me of my father, it’s Ronnie Milsap’s “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World.” (This post is best read while listening to that song, and while you’re at it, go ahead and grab some tissues; things are about to get bumpy). If they didn’t want me crying in the middle of their restaurant, then they shouldn’t have been playing that song.

My dad passed away in 1994. I always knew he wouldn’t be with us long. When I was 7 years old, I dreamed I saw him at the top of a hill, sitting in his favorite chair. When I reached the top, I noticed he was eerily still. I climbed into his lap and looked at his head to find it bleeding profusely. He was dead, and I awoke crying. When he came home from work that day, I ran from him when he walked in the door. I couldn’t look at him. It was a week before I could be around him without crying. It felt as if he were already gone. Years later, he fell from a great height while working, landed on his head, and died as the dream had warned me. Being warned didn’t make it hurt any less. For better or worse, there’s always been a connection between the message of appreciation in that Milsap song and the time with my dad that was cut short. On this happiest of days, Pub Day, I am connected still, and despite the tears, I’m not really that sad. It’s good to feel.

 Like many people who’ve lost a loved one, after a few years you still miss them terribly but you’re not crying every day. The sorrow becomes replaced by good memories, happy memories, and you only occasionally have a breakdown: maybe on a birthday or Christmas, or in a steak house when your book gets published. So maybe, I just missed him because it was nice to have someone who had always been so proud of everything I did. When he was proud of me, he was proud to the point of absolute embarrassment. I hated it when I was younger. Now, well, I treasure those memories and could give my younger self a good smack for being so silly and embarrassed all the time.

I spend a lot of time around writers. I’m on the board of the Atlanta Writers Club and a member of a critique group. I’m part of a podcast with several other writers, and we get used to going to book signings. So, when our own book gets published, it can feel like old hat to those around us. Maybe somewhere inside, I just missed having someone like my dad around for something like this.

Or perhaps the explanation is a little more of what some might say is “woo woo.” Maybe he was nearby because he is still proud of me, and maybe sensing his presence just plain made me miss him.

Five days later, I’m at a barbecue joint delightfully named “Bigguns” with my 10-year-old daughter on the outskirts of Ellijay, Georgia. I’m hiding my face behind a wonderful piece of cornbread and hoping to cover the fact that, yep, I’m crying again as I wonder if my dad experienced the same sense of peace, presence, and joy as he sat with me having lunch or talking and thinking about how beautiful his daughter’s smile is.

Now, I don’t want him to get the wrong idea and think that because I’m in tears that means I want his spirit to take an astral hike. No, not at all. We get so damn busy that we get out of touch with our feelings, and that’s not good. I don’t think we were meant to go through life that way as writers and certainly not as human beings. So, Dad, if you’re around, pull up an otherworldly chair and stay awhile, because, honestly, it’s good to feel, to remember, and to remember you especially.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, even if it means I’m crying in the middle of a steakhouse.

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