I could search the dictionary high and low for words to describe the crushing pain I have felt over the past two weeks. And what hurts the most is trying to picture my life without him in the years to come. What do you say when the man who held your heart took half of it with him when he left this earth? There is a gaping hole where my Daddy was in my life. Nobody. Nobody loved him like I did. We were so much more than just father and daughter. He was the first man to love me and I in return. He and I were a team. He had my back and I had his. You mess with Dad, you get the daughter. He picked me up when I fell down and made sure as hell that I was not afraid to try again. He was the dog-whisperer and taught me how to be kind to both those who walk on four legs and two legs. He taught me how to play darts, billiards, and every other sport you can lose money to. I was throwing a stuffed football and playing quarterback as soon as I could walk. He tried to teach me how to drive the Jeep – stick-shift. Sorry Dad. And teaching me how to play poker went as well as driving the stick shift, even a degree from Furman doesn’t guarantee poker smarts. But he didn’t hold it against me.
When he smiled, I smiled. When he danced, I danced. And when he laughed, I laughed even harder. That was life with Dad – smiling, dancing and laughing. He had this incredible gift of making you laugh and forget all your problems when you were hurting. He saw me achieve my dream of graduating from Furman. He walked me down the aisle just shy of a year ago to marry the love of my life. He watched me learn how to be a wife. He was there when I had no clue what I was doing, seeking any help and advice on how to adult. He saw it all. And it’s important for you to know that he sees us right now and he will be with me every step into my future.
I didn’t get his long eyelashes or big, beautiful brown eyes but he gave me his brute strength and spunk. He taught me how to throw a punch and at my first Dennis family reunion as a 5 year old I challenged a cousin to a wrestling match. My mother was mortified but I sure did make Daddy smile.
One night Mom wasn’t home and it was bedtime – which meant dad had to get me ready for bed. Instead of getting me a sippy cup full of water and making sure I brushed my teeth, he brought me a sippy cup full of sweet tea, thinking he’d done pretty good. He made me promise not to tell Mom. We went through a phase of sneaking up behind the shower curtain and dumping a giant glass of ice water on each other while taking off running before getting caught. Do you remember Koosh balls? Well, we had hundreds of them and would have World War 3 in the living room, launching them at each other taking turns using the couch as a shield.
Me, Mom and Dad were like a small gang. We had our own lingo, inside jokes, and probably freaked some people out with just how tuned in we were to each other. We did everything together, whether that was living out of a LandCruiser for a week at Cades Cove photographing the wild animals, riding the scrambler at the county fairs until one of us threw up, countless summer trips to the Outer Banks fishing trying to catch the big red drum and watching the Kite Surfers riding the wind in the Sound, or getting a tiny lake house where Dad spent the last two years of his life. And I would guarantee you that he would tell you that those were the best two years of his life. Every single day he did what he loved. Fishing, riding on the boat, kicking back with his friends and a cold beer. He loved his Clemson Tigers, his yellow Jeep, working on small projects and thinking of the next big thing while watching Fox News and saving the world one liberal at a time. Most of you were on Facebook with him and I don’t have to tell you just how passionate he was about being an American and how much he loved our country. He said countless times that if it came down to it, he would die for his freedom. He went out of his way to thank complete strangers for their service whether that be serving overseas or in their police or firefighter uniforms. Daddy never knew a stranger and I know that’s how he has made such an incredible impact on hundreds of people. Hundreds of people who Mom and I have never met but have reached out to us with love and support simply because they loved Dad. If that’s not a legacy to leave behind, I don’t know what is. I’m so proud that his blood flows through me and that I’m the only one who gets to call Mark Dennis their father. I always asked him if he’d wished God had given him a little boy instead of a girl. His response every time? Not a chance. He said I was his greatest accomplishment and I don’t know what on earth I did to ever deserve him. The 24 years I had with my Dad are a gift I will carry with me every day. All the loving memories of laughter and happiness will carry me through the days when a girl needs her Daddy… because I hate to break it to you, a girl never stops needing her father.
I want to say how incredibly thankful my mother and I are for every single person who has helped us get through to this point. Food, flowers, cards, daily calls, texts, hugs, tears, laughter and just knowing someone is lifting you up in prayer… that’s what gives you the strength to get out of bed every day. I have been so fortunate to nanny for two beautiful kids during the week who make me forget about the pain, if even for an hour or so. I have been so blessed with a husband who takes care of me like every father dreams of for his little girl and a mother who loved her husband more fiercely through thick and thin than anyone I’ve ever known – giving me the single best example of a wife I could ever ask for.
I know some of you know what this pain feels like and how this type of grief can make or break you. And I’m here to tell you that Mark Dennis’s daughter will not be broken. I will live my life like Daddy lived his. Loving every minute of it. And if there’s anything you take from this today, it’s this: Life is too short to be anything but happy.