My dad would be upset to hear that he died peacefully in his sleep. He’d have wanted some elaborate way of going… like getting eaten by a crocodile in the Amazon.

That’s just how he was. His sense of humor was innate. He was a funny kid too. For instance, my grandma Mary wrote down the funny things he used to say. At two-and-a-half, he said “We need beer.” At three, “Mommy, why did you grow up so fast? Why didn’t you wait for me?” And at four he said, “Horseradish is worser than liver.” 

Growing up, my sister and I were his captive audience. He was the most incredible storyteller. He’d stay in our room and tell us tall tales he made up right there, on the spot. And my mom would say he should record his stories or write them down and turn them into a book. While it’s true he could’ve shared his stories with the world and the world would’ve loved them, I always felt special because they were our stories — nobody else got to hear them. He made them up just for us.  

Given his humble beginnings, he was the journeyman turned unexpected hero. His mission? To live as a lifelong student and teacher. He put himself through undergrad, graduate and his doctorate with a slew of odd jobs — truck driver, painter, shoe salesman. My mom said he counted once and he’d worked over 40 odd jobs to put himself thru school. He was proud of the life he created.

I learned so much from him. He instilled in me the value of hard work. So, I was never afraid of losing a job because he taught me, “As long as you can breathe, you can work… if you’re determined enough to survive.” He taught me the sky’s the limit and he helped me believe anything was attainable. I just had to try.

My dad was my hero, I idolized him. I swear, we’d go into places all over town and without fail he’d run into someone he knew. I used to think he was the mayor of our town. He got to know so many people over the years… as a professor at the local college… through his involvement with our church… through the Optimists club. He valued his relationships. And he loved his friends.

My favorite story about Dad isn’t totally appropriate, but… I’ve gotta tell it. So, my mom, bless her heart, went all out for my dad’s surprise 40th birthday. I mean, she pulled out all the stops and rented a ballroom at the Holiday Inn, which was the fanciest place in town at the time.

And she hired a stripper.

I mean, that’s love right there, right? And of course, this stripper was dressed like a cop. But when she got close enough to my dad to handcuff him to his chair, she turned bright red and said, “Happy Birthday Dr. Ryan…” Turns out she was one of my dad’s students! Always the gentleman, my dad ended up being a pretty good sport about the whole thing, though he blushed a brighter red than she did.

Over the last few months, as my Dad’s health declined, all I could think about was how often he saved me. He rescued me from countless roadside disasters, moved me all over the country, and made me feel strong when the world got me down. He was superman to me.

My dad’s passing has made me realize I deserve the kind of love he and my mom had. Thanks to my dad for  helping me to weed out the frogs. He didn’t like the last one who turned out to be a schmuck that never even reached out to offer condolences. Deleting him from my life since my dad’s passing has been cathartic. My reset is to change my mindset about men and only go out with ones that meet my dad’s standards. Although I won’t know the joy or privilege of being walked down the aisle by him, I will hear his words. I won’t settle for less than I deserve… a strong, reliable love with someone as amazing as him.

My Dad’s favorite writer was J.R. Tolkien. And I can see why. Tolkien wrote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” And my dad decided to put every minute to good use. He loved us well. He lived a life fulfilled. His life meant something, and it still means something. It always will.