Are You There Dad? It’s Me, Samantha.

Two years after my father’s mysterious death, I’m finally embracing his life lessons as a way to live mine.

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I met my soulmate on August 21, 1985. It was the day I was born. His name was Matthew and he had bright red curly hair and endless freckles. He was 30 years older than me and the first person to make me laugh. He was my dad.

I lost my soulmate on December 3, 2017 — exactly two years ago today. It happened very unexpectedly (is there a such thing as “very” unexpectedly?). I didn’t get to say goodbye. He didn’t get to say goodbye. I spent the next nine months under the covers of his and his other soul mate — my mom’s — bed. I didn’t feel like I could go on. He was a part of me, my daily life, and identity. How on earth could I keep existing? Not only was I grieving the love of my life, but I was also left wondering who the heck I was without him.

Like everyone my age, I spent my childhood without a cell phone. My most loyal valentine, my father, gifted me a Nokia 3310 on February 14th, 2004 — my sophomore year of high school. Other than playing the addictive, and only, game Snake on it (can someone please bring that back from the dead, as well?), and calling my parents when I was ready to be picked up at my friends’ houses, I didn’t have much use for it. It didn’t come out at the dinner table or on our 30 minute car rides to school, where my dad, sister, and I would giggle along to Z100’s Elvis Duran and the Z Morning Zoo’s “Phone Taps” as we sped down the Merritt Parkway in our white Dodge Minivan (aptly nicknamed “The Vanna White” by dad, of course).

Instead of playing Candy Crush or watching the latest YouTube haul video, I spent hours telling my dad about my day and my friends over his “skinny” chicken and infamous portobello mushrooms. Instead of listening to the latest KidzBop or That’s What I Call Music playlist on my headphones, our family would sit in the den (in all its 80s white leather clad glory) listening and singing to my dad’s favorite CDs — The Beatles, Pete Seeger, Bruce Hornsby and The Range, Meatloaf, the Kinks, and, yes, Sublime.

It will be two years today, December 3rd, since the physical presence of my soul mate left this earth. I can no longer receive his clever words of advice at the simple touch of the “Favorites” button on my iPhone (although he still remains on the top of that list and I don’t have the heart to remove him from it). But just because I’ve lost my constant dinner time conversation and cell connection to my dad doesn’t mean that the communication stops.

Some of the things Samantha’s dad taught her to love

Crying my eyes out and being angry with the world and everyone in it was okay for a little while, but I could only get away without speaking to anyone but my mom for so long. There came a time when I realized that my life has a day-to-day purpose and that what  my dad   taught me was to live life with an open heart and to the very last drop.

He also taught me this:

1. Always say hello, how are you?, and thank you to anyone you meet — especially to cashiers and supermarket baggers (oh, and his best buddy, the greeter at Costco!).

2. Always do good unto others. My father was not a religious man — even the High Holidays weren’t his thing. He attended though, in order to please the world’s best brisket maker (my mother, of course). But he may as well have created the golden rule himself. There was never a neighbor he didn’t help out, he was the mayor of Jonathan Drive (two days before he passed, he helped an elderly man on our street refill his propane tank and setup his Christmas tree after driving by and seeing him struggling to carry them into his home). There was never a friend of a friend of a friend he didn’t give free legal advice to (he was an incredible lawyer, but it didn’t define him), and there was never a family member he wouldn’t drive countless hours at any time of the day or night to make sure there was a friendly face (his moustache-ed one to be exact!) to greet them upon their arrival at the airport or bus stop or train station.

3. It’s not how much you save, it’s how much you spend. And if you can get it on eBay, even better. I just purchased a pair of $595 black Gucci gently used leather driving loafers off eBay for $101. He would have been so proud.

4. Anything can be cured with a black and white film and a milkshake of the same colors. I studied film throughout high school and college and made storytelling the focus of my career because of his insistence of my watching old episodes of The Honeymooners and films like The Red Shoes, Singin’ In The Rain and Citizen Kane.

5. Just because you went into one field or industry doesn’t mean you can’t learn and ideate on others. My dad was the definition of “jack of all trades” and a polymath at heart. He knew so much about so much. He was my go-to “Phone-A-Friend” or “Shout-Out” if I was ever smart enough to compete on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, or lucky enough to be picked up by Cash Cab (ride hailing fingers still crossed!).

6. Forget duct tape, creativity can fix anything. In the words of my dad, any item can be fixed with rubber hair ties, Comet, a toothpick, and Goo-Gone. From tangled necklaces to a few massive dents on the front bumper of my tried and true car (pulling into the garage was never my best quality. After a few dozen dings and dents, dad told me to simply park the car in front of the garage, for dear G-d, and let him pull it in). My brother Josh was gifted multiple sterling silver money clips for his bar mitzvah. As much as he loved the idea of not having a bulky wallet, he wasn’t a “money clip kind of guy” and nothing made dad happier. Instead, my dad came home from the supermarket one day and told my brother he’d found him the greatest, fanciest, and most functional money clip there ever was. He proceeded to pull out the extra wide purple rubber band that was previously wrapped around the broccoli bunch in the produce section of the A&P. And to this day, Josh holds his cash together with that very purple rubber band.

7. Personalization is key. I had a friend named Victoria growing up. Whenever she would sleepover (which was often), he would sneak downstairs to the basement (of course) in the morning and put his Kinks CD into the boombox and proceed to play the song “Victoria” on blast as our wake-up call. Victoria would laugh and laugh and dance and dance (and so would me and dad). He did this in his own way for everyone he knew.

Samantha and her dad

There are so many more lessons he taught me that could take up every megabyte of the internet, but I know people have “the attention span of a goldfish,” so I’ll stop there.

In terms of what I lost upon his passing, other than a best friend, mentor, partner in crime, and soulmate, was my passion for life, zest for learning, and an overall sense of self. I also lost the ability to focus in my daily life (so long, career!), and was in constant fear of losing my own mother to loneliness and sadness.

After a year and a half flew or dragged by (dependent on the day), I knew I couldn’t hold onto my soulmate forever, and that all of the opportunities to connect with other souls on this earth were passing by me unnoticed. It was time for me to get out there.

What I discovered was that it was my duty to keep dad’s memory alive by not only trying to make him proud (contrite, but so real), but by making his soul part of mine and introducing people to him every day by doing so. Whether it be telling his go-to joke at every party I attend, recommending the films him (and I) loved to mentees and friends of mine (see lesson no. 4), buying mom a Ferragamo bag at 60% off on eBay ( see lesson no. 3), reading as many articles on food, pets, media, tech (any topic, really) a day and sending the link to someone I know who’d benefit or appreciate it with no ask in return (see lesson no. 5), or recently helping a colleague of mine’s middle school son market his Boy Scout candy campaign successfully (see lesson no. 2)… things I am proud and excited to tell the photograph I keep of him next to my bed at the end of every day.

I’ve heard it said that “the stronger our attachment to the someone or something that was taken away from us, the stronger our grief.” And I can attest to that. It’s up to all of us who are lucky to still be on this earth to make sure that what was so special about someone’s soul lives on beyond their last breath, and, even more importantly, that it’s shared with others. This is more significant than any tombstone, tree, Facebook post tribute or memorial will ever be. Instead of grieving (which is okay and necessary), realizing I was the luckiest person in the world to have had a soulmate as impactful and memorable as my father is what keeps me alive.

Dad, while you might not physically be here, you make every day more livable. And as Bruce Hornsby sings (one of the first musicians you introduced me to): “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change.”

Samantha Klein is a daughter, sister, dog mom and best friend. She is passionate about exceptional customer experiences, marketing, learning what’s cool from anyone younger than her, Diet Coke & handwritten thank you cards. She misses her dad a lot but is working on living her life to the fullest.

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