Happy Father’s Day to My Dad, With Love

“The ambulance just took your father to the hospital.”

I don’t remember hearing many of the words that immediately followed.

My dad, Charlie Samar, has spent 85 years on this earth. I’ve been lucky enough to call him “Dad” for the past 58 of them.

Last month, I flew to Phoenix on a Tuesday to spend some time with my parents. We enjoyed a couple of short visits that afternoon. My parents tire easily and sneak in a few hours of shut eye every afternoon, though my dad says, “I don’t take naps.”

But our Tuesday afternoon visits were good; everything seemed as normal as it can for two 80-somethings who both have had a few health problems in recent years.

I stay in a hotel while visiting Phoenix and it was Wednesday morning when I got the call from my mother that my dad had just been rushed to the hospital.

When we arrived at the emergency room, we were not immediately allowed to go back to see him. My mother’s description of the symptoms that led to calling 911 were vague, and neither one of us really knew what was wrong.

Though I’m always telling my husband I’m Glass-Half-Full Patti, a Positive Pollyanna, at this moment, while sitting in a sterile bright white ER waiting room, my only thoughts turned black. “What if this is it,” I thought. “What if he doesn’t recover? What if this is the day my dad dies?”

My heart and stomach just sank.

My dad and his stubborn, 100 percent Ukrainian blood, proved me wrong.

Thank goodness.

He was dehydrated and had a mild case of pneumonia and one good night spent in the hospital made a world of difference.

Patti Samar and Charlie Samar, circa 2018

Once I knew he was out of the woods, as I sat in the hospital room with him and my mother, I realized that I was fortunate to be there at that moment, as I only visit my parents twice a year. Every time I get on the plane to go home, I look out the airplane window as we lift off, looking as hard as I can to the north, looking for familiar landmarks that surround their home and the community where they live, hoping, somehow, that they feel my presence watching over them, wanting to connect for every last second.

Sitting on the plane, my eyes tear up when I realize that, at this point in life, every time I see them might be the last.

The thought of losing my dad absolutely makes my stomach turn.

As I sat there listening to my parents chat, I realized I had an opportunity to say something special in person. With the advent of social media, I so often see beautifully written tributes to loved ones after they die. And trust me, I love reading those tributes.

But my dad is still here and I wanted him to know how much he means to me. And there I was, sitting just a few feet away from him, and yet the words just got garbled up in my throat.

When Mom and I went to leave for the day, I tried saying something. “Thank you for being the best dad in the world,” I told him as I hugged him goodbye for the night, hoping he didn’t hear the break in my voice. I knew I wouldn’t get another word out of my mouth without bursting into tears.

Before I left the desert that week, I was able to bring my father home from the hospital. I never did say the words that just felt jumbled in my head, like a pile of letters in a Scrabble game.

But I still got choked up on the plane as it lifted from the desert. So many trips to Phoenix over the past 30-plus years and so much emotion tied into every one of them.

Charlie Samar, son Dale Samar, and daughter Patti Samar

And while I knew my parents were happy to see me, I felt like I’d failed my dad because I hadn’t been able to sit down, look him in the eye, and tell him what he means to me, especially since I worry, every time I leave him, that I might never see him again.

(And I’m not trying to be overly dramatic; I’m just being Practical Patti when I say that. My parents are in their 80s. Unexpected things happen. I’m hoping my Stubborn Ukrainian father lives at least to the 96 years of age that his even more stubborn Ukrainian grandmother lived to be.)

Honestly, I’ve never been good with telling people, out loud, about my feelings. Whether the feelings are good or bad, I am not good with coming up with the right words off the top of my head, and even if I can think of them, I get choked up and struggle to get them out into space.

Truth be told, I’m much better at sharing words in writing, where I can sit and think carefully about how to organize my thoughts.

So here, Dad, in honor of your 58th Father’s Day, are the words I wish I’d been able to say to you in person and the words I want you to know long before you and I leave this planet:

Thank you for being the very best dad anyone could ever ask for. I cannot think of one single thing I wish you had done differently, nor one single word that you shouldn’t have said, except, maybe that time back in the early 1990s when you were pretty upset than I wanted to buy my first SUV and not a minivan. That was advice I didn’t need. I never did buy a minivan and I still drive an SUV.  😉

Speaking of cars, thank you for always being my beacon on everything related to my vehicles, even to this day. If my car is making a noise and I have no idea what is causing it, I call my dad. He always knows the answer, even from 1,500 miles away without seeing or hearing the vehicle in person. At the very least, he gives me some ideas so I know what to discuss with a mechanic, at the most, he can completely and accurately diagnose the problem from a far. My first husband got so frustrated because I would call my father in Phoenix before I trusted his in-person assessment. My current husband is relieved I have a go-to guy who knows everything there is to know about cars because he doesn’t.

In case you didn’t know it, Dad, I have bragged about you and your mechanical abilities to my friends my entire life. My dad loves classic autos and I watched him tear down his 1947 Ford Coupe to the chassis and completely put it back together, piece by piece, nut and bolt by nut and bolt.

Patti Samar with her father, Charlie Samar, and his 1947 Ford Coupe, in Phoenix, circa early 2000s

In fact, my father is all-around handy. He can build anything from scratch and he can fix anything that is broken. I’ve watched him build pieces of furniture, a garage and a shed, among other things, all from a pile of lumber.

He worked for IBM as a field engineer, which, back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s meant someone who actually walked into a room containing a mainframe computer and diagnosed it and fixed it by hand, using the tools stored in a large, leather briefcase embossed with his name and “IBM.”

It also meant he wasn’t supposed to wear a wedding ring due to the possibility of electrical danger. My father refused to remove his wedding ring. I learned two lessons: the value and importance of commitment, and the value of asking for forgiveness, not permission, at some points in life. Thank you for those lessons learned, Dad.

Jan and Charlie Samar, at their wedding, 1962

A Navy veteran, he worked on electronics during his four years in the service, and that led to the job offer from up-and-coming computing company IBM following his honorable discharge.

My dad was the first person I ever knew to use the internet. It was in late 1989 or early 1990 and I had moved to lower Michigan. My parents still lived in Marquette at the time, and on one of my trips home to visit, he took me into his home office and showed me this interesting “online bulletin board” that was a precursor to websites. He had discovered on this particular bulletin board other people who were restoring classic cars and they were offering to swap or sell car parts.

He had purchased a few needed items for his Ford Coupe there, and he was excited that he could log in to this bulletin board instead of waiting for the next issue of some classic car magazine to arrive so he could search the classified ads for someone who might have a part he needed.

A few years ago, I visited Phoenix and my dad had bought yet another classic car to rebuild. He proudly showed me the Nash Metropolitan he’d purchased on Craigslist.

The body was in pristine condition, but Dad had already torn the entire car apart. “I bought a new electrical system,” he said, as he proudly held up what appeared to me to be a pile of wires: Another more modern-day online purchase.

Yup, that was the electrical system. And yes, he knew how to install it.

Did you know there is no one on earth I’d rather go to a car show or an auto museum with than you? You are a walking encyclopedia on the American automobile. It is so much fun to wander around and look at the cars and listen to your soft-spoken play-by-play regarding interesting little details about the vehicles that I never would have noticed on my own, and the stories you share about people you knew and remembered who owned this particular car or that one over there.

Every vehicle has a story through your eyes. I love hearing them.

Charlie Samar and Patti Samar visit a classic car museum in Phoenix, circa 2016

Dad, did you know you are my hero and my inspiration?

While I’ve been known to fall off the exercise and working out bandwagon my entire adult life, every time I pick myself up and start running to catch up again is inspired by my father. When I was a kid, he was always active. He played softball and hockey.

He built us backyard ice rinks and taught us how to “stick handle like Gordie Howe,” his hockey hero.

He retired from playing hockey in his early 70s. It was just in the past year that he decided it was time to let go of his hockey duffle full of skates and equipment.

Charlie Samar, playing pick up hockey in Marquette, Michigan, circa late 1990s

My dad has Parkinson’s Disease, but up until more recently, it was fairly slow in its progression, so until he fell and broke his leg a couple of years ago, he was still walking two miles every day: one mile to Starbucks, and one mile home.

Did I mention my dad loves coffee? Sooo much coffee.

Up until then, he was also still riding his bicycle up to eight miles a day. At the age of 80, he’d worn out his old bike so he bought a new one. He told me he’d ride early in the morning to avoid the worst of the desert heat.

He golfed. He loves Tiger baseball and the Detroit Red Wings. He inherited that. Even his mother, my grandmother, was buried with a Detroit Red Wings jersey in her casket.

Dad, I remember our trips to Tiger Stadium, wearing my own baseball glove on my hand hoping to catch a fly ball.

Two of my favorite memories: inviting my dad, a few years ago, to come visit me so I could take him to a Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena because the man who had watched them retire Gordie Howe’s jersey at Olympia Stadium had never been to a game at the Joe.

Our weekend was so fun. Before we went to the game, we spent the afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Arts. My father took up drawing and painting in his retirement and he took art classes at his local community college. As we wandered through the DIA, stopping to look at whatever caught our attention, he was filled with information and knowledge I didn’t know he had. It was so much fun listening to him and, just like when visiting a car show with you, learning more about the artwork than I was seeing with my own eyes.

At game time, we hadn’t taken 10 steps inside the Joe Louis concourse when Dad stopped, looked around and declared: “Well this place is a dump!” I stopped in my tracks, a little stunned, then I bust out laughing.

A few years later, he returned to Michigan and to “The Dump” with me to see the last game played at the Joe. I invited you and told you I wanted you to be there to be a part of Red Wings history, but really, I just wanted to spend time with you and I’m so glad you made that trip. It was the last time you were able to visit me in Michigan. Thank you so much for coming.

Charlie Samar and Patti Samar at Joe Louis Arena for the last Detroit Red Wings game, circa 2017

My dad is a man of few words. But, those he says are always profound. He’s like E.F. Hutton: when Charlie talks, people listen. I did. From the time I was young, I sought his advice.

When I was a freshman in college, I was an undeclared major. At the end of the second semester, I realized I was likely headed toward majoring in English. I wanted your advice. I found you at Mr. Donut in Marquette, where I could often find you at the end of your workday, kibitzing with your pals there, discussing all things mechanical and sports.

I told you I wanted to major in English and why. You listened and you told me that was a really good idea. All I needed was your approval to know I’d made a good decision. It changed my life.

After that conversation, we probably played a game of Pac Man or Asteroids. I still remember playing those video games with my dad at Mr. Donut. He loves games and he loves fun.

I remember playing games in our backyard swimming pool and your laughter. I remember learning to play pool and pinball from you at various campground rec centers on rainy days.

I could rattle off details of many of our “important” father-daughter conversations over the years, some of which happened at Mr. Donut, some of which happened out in your garage with old time country-western music playing on the radio while you tinkered on some car, but mostly what I want to say here is thank you, Dad, for listening. No matter what the topic, whether I was upset about some issue with my girlfriends or my most recent boy interest, or other more important and more serious topics, you always listened.

And then, when I was done talking, those profound words came. They were simple and few, but they were calm, and they were level-headed, and they stuck with me. Those words helped me make better decisions than I might have made had I not heard them.

I cannot thank you enough for the way you taught me lifelong lessons with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Crystal Gayle playing as the soundtrack.

I think of you every time I hear some of those songs, Dad.

Thank you, Dad, for instilling in me a sense of wanderlust and a love for travel.

You are never far from my thoughts whenever I travel anywhere. You inspired our family trips to the Great American West where we visited Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Mount Rushmore. We threw snowballs on top of the Rocky Mountains on the Fourth of July.

Everywhere we went, from Maine to Yellowstone, I could see and hear your excitement over visiting new places, experiencing new things and learning about things you didn’t know before. That was a gift and I’m thankful for it.

Charlie Samar on vacation with his wife, Jan Samar

And, as your daughter, born in 1963, I have to tell you thank you for being the original “Girl Dad.” The dad who always told me, even back in a time when women were still primarily relegated to being “just” nurses and teachers — if anything, outside of the home — that I could do and be anything I wanted to be.

You knew I liked to travel and when you saw me playing with my Barbie airplane, you told me flight attendants and pilots got to travel for free; when you saw me reading piles and piles of Nancy Drew books, you encouraged me to become a lawyer and solve real-life mysteries.

And the thing is, I never, ever forgot your encouragement to just find my passion and pursue it. It didn’t matter that I was a girl or female. You believed in me, so I believed in me.

That was all I needed.

Mom Jan Samar, Patti Samar and Dad Charlie Samar, at Patti’s college graduation, circa 1985

And thank you for always, even now, telling me that you are proud of me and anything I do that you view as an “accomplishment.”

A couple of years ago, when you fell and broke your leg, I called you in the hospital. You were in your usual good spirits, and while I was concerned and asking how you were, you didn’t want to talk about you; you wanted to tell me you’d read the most recent issue of my Blue Water Woman magazine online and that you were proud of me. Your words melted my heart in the best possible way. How could I be 56 years old and still need validation from my father when I didn’t even know I needed it?

Thank you for always being my biggest cheerleader.

Most of all, Dad, thank you for just being a good and decent human being every single day of your life. Your calm in every storm on our home front, your unending list of corny “Dad Jokes” (and the many Eino and Toivo Yooper jokes!) and your desire to tell them over and over just so you could keep laughing and keep everyone else around you smiling, are all of the things I love about you best.

Thank you, also, for the times when your voice became stern and you expressed disappointment — never anger — in me. Those were rare life events, and because of that, I knew that I needed to rethink my life choices at that moment and get back on course, always with your gentle but firm guidance.

Even after writing more than 3,000 words here, I feel like I’m falling short in telling your story. I don’t feel like this screams to the world how proud I am to be your daughter and how much you mean to me.

I’m definitely not a person of few words like you, but I hope something in these words helps you understand how very much you mean to me.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. Xoxo

Patti Samar with Charlie Samar, circa 1965

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