In the months leading up to Joe's retirement I thought often of my dad. Our immediately family - his mom, dad, father, half-brother, and my mom, step dad, sister, brother and his wife and son, would be there. So would his great aunt and uncle.
I knew my dad would've been there to celebrate this momentous occasion, and I knew I would miss him not being there with everyone else gathered around us.
Both Joe and I come from a military background. The military is how we met. We were both born at military locations, our dads were stationed in Germany where we met in high school, and they both retired after 20 years of service in the Air Force.
It would have meant a lot to me, and I know to my dad as well, if he could have been there for Joe's own retirement.
I thought about ways I might be able to somehow include my dad in that day. Have a chair marked 'reserved' for him? Give something military-related that was my dad's to Joe as a retirement gift? The problem was I don't have anything of my dad's like that.
The other problem is this day wasn't about me, or my dad, or the fact that he wouldn't be there.
It was about Joe as it rightfully should have been. This was about the culmination of his 22 years of Air Force service and the focus needed to remain on that fact, and on Joe. I didn't need to bring the absence of my father to this day of honoring Joe.
So in the end I didn't do anything, or say anything, I just internalized it and thought off and on about my dad.
On the morning of the retirement I had to go on base to sign some paperwork. Driving back home Luther Vandross' song Dance With My Father came on the radio. This song was on the radio shortly after my dad died and I remember being overcome with emotion. I've heard it only one other time between that day and the morning of the retirement. That morning of the retirement it was like a little gift to me, I needed to hear it since I had been missing him and was thinking of him.
Then there was the retirement ceremony and seeing my brother all dressed up in his Army uniform - the last time I saw him in that uniform he was saluting our dad's casket. And my brother looking so much like our father.
At the beginning of the ceremony we all stood as the chaplain said a prayer.
A few sentences in to his prayer, Kayla leaned into me with her head on my side. I gave her back a couple of strokes and then she put her arm around my back. I kept my arm draped on her shoulder. She put her other arm around the front of me. That was unusual for Kayla to do. I looked down at her and she looked up at me and solemnly whispered,
"You miss Pepere?"
How did she know? I thought to myself. How. Did. She. Know?
I wasn't thinking of my dad during that exact moment, I wasn't upset at that exact moment, so how did she know?
I hadn't said anything to anyone about my dad.
I guess in some way he was letting me know that his presence, while not physical, was there after all.