Feeeeelings,  Meta-Blogging

Let’s talk about my dead dad

(Note: As the title would suggest, this post is not about travel, nor tea, but rather, my dead dad. If you’re interested, read on, but if you were looking for travel or tea, come back next week.)

My dad
My dad

Tomorrow is Friday, June 14th. The two-year anniversary of my dad’s death.

And this Sunday is father’s day, which is not a large, in-your-face holiday, but its closeness to my dad’s death feels a bit liked being kicked when I’m already down.

It’s been a rough week.

Every task has seemed wildly difficult, and I’ve been on edge. My mother and E have been patient while I’ve stormed around the house on the verge of tears over every little thing.

I’ve been trying to move my blog over to being self-hosted, which is proving difficult, and makes me want to cry. All of my photos are huge and slowing down my site’s load time, but I haven’t figured out a way to make them smaller and maintain the quality, which makes me want to cry.

I’m trying to pitch more freelance articles in a desperate attempt to start breaking even because I feel ashamed I’m doing this full-time and not making money, but for some reason I can’t think of a single travel-related story, and it makes me want to cry.

I can’t decide what I want to eat for lunch, and it makes me want to cry.

This is what life’s like in Casa Opportune Moment right now.

This is also what life’s like at Casa Momento de Oportunidad. Cats make it all better, right?

All these issues will straighten out and be fine, and this will likely be the best summer I’ve had in recent years. But, right now I can’t get over how much I hate my blog header, and I’m complaining to the handful of people who read my blog that no one reads my blog (ironically alienating my readership for the win), and all of this is just a reflection of the fact that I’m sad.

It’s exhausting to grieve, so, I grit my teeth, and I fixate on other issues, and I trick myself into misunderstanding the real problem.

The problem is my dad is dead.

And, unfortunately, that’s always going to be a problem.

I’ve mentioned my dad on the blog before, in my post Full Disclosure, where I told you I can afford to travel because I inherited my father’s retirement fund.

Yup, I travel using money I didn’t earn.

Travel bloggers tend to brag about how they’ve made sacrifices in order to save money and travel. They make sweeping statements like, “I don’t have rich parents, I’m not a trust fund kid.” Readers are reminded that these are despicable ways to afford travel.

I feel for these bloggers. They get a lot of crap for traveling full time (or part time) and living their dreams. People who aren’t happy like to lash out at people who are and accuse them of not deserving the experiences they’ve earned. It makes sense that bloggers justify and explain their actions. Hell, that’s what I’m doing.

I’ll tell you what I sacrificed in order to travel:

My dad.

And I’ll tell you something else: I’d sacrifice all my travel experiences to still have my dad. Fuck Iceland, fuck Krakow, fuck Hawai’i — give me back my dad.

In the media, if someone inherits, the person who died is always a rich uncle they didn’t know they had. Inheriting is a joyful experience — a windfall! These portrayals are hurtful because they erase the people who had to die to make them happen. I hate telling people I inherited money (so, I’m telling the internet, obviously) because “inherit” has positive connotations in this world. Your grandmother wrote you into her will, and died peacefully in her sleep, how sweet. I always follow up “inheritance” with “my dad died while I was still in college” so everyone can leave the conversation feeling uncomfortable and bitter.

Obviously, I’m a privileged person. My father’s death provided me with money to see the world rather than catapulting me into medical debt. Before he died, I’d already had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica when I was in high school and study abroad in Barcelona when I was in college. I’m white, straight, able-bodied, thin, cisgendered, solidly middle class, and I know my life is easier as a result.

I’ve experienced loss and grief and I know people without heaps of privilege also experience loss and grief. And to them I say, solidarity fist bump. And to them I say, if you feel no solidarity with me because I’m privileged, I respect that.

Our experiences with grief are unique. Mine boils down to:

I miss my dad.

My dad and I at a pool party
My dad and me at a pool party

I miss his quirks.

I miss how he’d get the receipt for a purchase and if it was within a certain price range he would always ask the same question.

“That’ll be $18.95.”

“Hmm,” my dad would reply, “Who was president in 1895?”

He’d ask my brother and I, and, when they were still married, he’d ask my mom. Sometimes he’d ask the cashier, who was usually a bit taken aback by the question. I thought it was an embarrassing exchange when I was a teenager, but my father had this glimmer in his eye like he was telling a funny joke, so, I never stopped him from asking. He almost always knew the answer.

When I was a child, my father had seemingly endless reserves of trivia knowledge, but he didn’t just know things. He would puzzle them out aloud, or tell you where he learned the information, or take out a book and show you the passage that confirmed what he’d said. He knew who the president was in 1895 (Grover Cleveland) because he knew who the president was in 1902 (Teddy Roosevelt) and he would work backwards or he knew who the president was in 1884 (Chester A. Arthur) and he would work forwards. You could follow his logic. You could see how he knew. You too could have seemingly endless reserves of trivia knowledge.

My father was a librarian.

My father loved maps. When I got my license and my first car, my dad bought me a road atlas for the state of Rhode Island — a state small enough that it renders a road atlas nearly unnecessary.

Whenever I went somewhere new, in state or out, my father would pull out his maps and plot a route with me. We’d trace lines that I could follow in my car, and he’d point out landmarks along the way and alternate routes in case I got lost, and I usually didn’t remember much of what he had to say, but it was a ritual. A lot of my friends know I hate GPSs — not all of them know this is one of the reasons why. The dying art of map reading, which my father held so dear.

Me and my piece of shit car, which I no longer have, but which never contained a GPS
Me and my piece of shit car, which I no longer have, but which never contained a GPS

I miss the way my dad talked about movies. Watching movies was a passion my father found late in life. He liked independent films. And queer cinema. And romantic comedies. Indie, lesbian, rom-coms were his favorites.

The last movie he watched before he died was Shakespeare in Love, which I regret I didn’t watch with him, even though I was in the house at the time. He told me watching movies was hard when he was dying because movies so often end by looking hopefully to the future. In the late stages of esophageal cancer, he couldn’t relate to the sentiment.

He liked Shakespeare in Love because the ending is not hopeful, the ending is an ending. Yes, it’s a beginning because Shakespeare goes on to write plays inspired by his lover after the end of the film, but their relationship is definitively over. Their story ends. I’m sorry if I just spoiled Shakespeare in Love for anyone, but please come join us in the 2010’s and get over it.

My dad told me that, if he’d known when I was studying abroad that the reason his hip never healed when he had surgery and the reason he had a limp at the end of his life was because the cancer was already spreading into his bones, he would have come to visit me in Barcelona. Like my brother and my mom did.

And I swear, we would have ridden taxis all over that fucking city, and he would have seen every goddamn thing.

Father-daughter dance at my elementary school
Father-daughter dance at my elementary school

I regret not spending more time with my dad before he died. I visited almost every week, driving from Boston where I was going to school to his apartment in Rhode Island, and I couldn’t have visited more.

Because it’s hard to watch your dad die.

I was there every goddamn day for the week he spent in a hospice facility.

I couldn’t have done more and yet it’s impossible not to regret.

I’m telling you mostly happy stories, but my dad was not perfect. He was an alcoholic — the most polite alcoholic I’ve ever heard of. He drank martinis almost every night when I was growing up, but I never knew he was an alcoholic until after he quit drinking, which he did because a doctor told him it would kill him.

It did.

My dad told my mom he thought for sure it was going to be lung cancer that killed him. He was mad it wasn’t because he could have kept smoking.

My dad was stingy. He once gleefully told me that he was looking forward to my 18th birthday because he wouldn’t have to pay child support anymore. Thanks, Dad.

One of the unfortunate things about cancer and long-term illness is that it doesn’t turn people into saints. They’re the same people they always were; they’re just in hospital beds.

My father cracked jokes on his deathbed. When the nurses asked about his pain, he’d point to the friends gathered round the hospice room. He told us about his drug-induced dreams, typically asking if they’d been real.

“Did we go barhopping, Em?” he asked me once.

“No, Dad,” I chuckled. “We’ve never been barhopping.” I had turned 21 only two months before.

“Oh.” He told me about the places we went. “It was fun.”

“I’m glad we had fun, Dad.”

When I tell people about my dad, they say he would be proud of me for using my inheritance to do something I love and pursue this travel writing dream. I don’t know if that’s true.

I do know that this blog post is 1,816 words long.

Who was president in 1816?

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • Ian

    I didn’t look this up, so I’m just guessing. I think it was James Madison, because he was after Jefferson, and I’m pretty sure Jefferson was out of office by 1812. If it wasn’t Madison, it was probably John Quincy Adams, who came after.

    Thanks for writing this post. I miss dad too.

  • Megan Smith

    This was really beautiful and touching, Emma. (I stupidly didn’t grab the tissues until after the waterworks!)

    And I agree with those people–your dad would be proud, not only that you’re pursuing your dream, but also that you’re a wonderful person and feel like an instant friend. 🙂

    • opportunemma

      Thank you, Megan. I’m so grateful we met at Blog House — you feel like an old friend already, and I appreciate your support, your advice, and your kind and funny words. Plus, I like your blog!

  • Suzi Grossman

    Beautiful, Emma. Made me sob. My grandmother died the same week. I never really thought about how close to Father’s Day it was. I think I must have celebrated that year by fleeing the state and flying to Chicago. Takes a lot of courage to put that all out there, even half so eloquently, so bravo <3

    • opportunemma

      Thank you, Suzi, for reading this post, calling it eloquent and brave, and for being an excellent friend these last five years. I’m sorry we had to lose family members to cancer, but, I suppose, at least we’re not alone in the experience. Solidarity fist bump.

  • pickledwings

    Lovely post, Emma.

    My parents divorced when I was really little so I never really had a chance to know my father and I never had a consistent father figure while growing up. Your dad sounds like he was a great guy and a lot of fun to be around, you’re lucky you had him.

    As for what enables an individual to travel, I think you should feel no guilt over using an inheritance to travel. It’s really nobody’s business how another person manages to finance their travels, I don’t know why some people feel the need to brag about financing it “the hard way”.

    • opportunemma

      Thank you, Kevan. My dad was a great guy — I may have only known him for 21 years, but at least we had that time together, which is more than many people get. Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts on what enables an individual to travel. You’re right, my finances aren’t anyone else’s business, and I’m trying to feel less guilt over my inheritance.

  • Stacey Burnette

    So nicely written Emma, thank you for sharing your story. I’m also sure your Dad was proud of you and would have been even more proud if he could see how you are touching the lives of others with stories about him and more. May your love and sweet memories of him forever stay this fresh and true.

    • opportunemma

      Thank you, Stacey. I especially appreciate the last line you wrote: I also hope my memories of my dad stay fresh and true. That’s one of the reasons I write and tell stories about him.

  • Melissa

    Thanks for sharing Emma. I remember we chatted a bit about your dad and my mom (2.5 yrs ago now) in Toronto so all I can say is… *solidarity fist bump*

    • opportunemma

      Thank you for your kind words, Cindy. I appreciate you calling it “a beautifully written life” and I’m trying to live without regret. It’s not a useful or empowering emotion.

  • Andrea

    While my father didn’t leave me his retirement fund, he did leave me his sense of adventure. He went to Eastern Africa in the 80’s and climbed Kilimanjaro. Today, I booked my trip there. I guess I am celebrating Father’s Day for the first time in 6 years.

    More power to you, he’d be happy you are doing what you love.

    • opportunemma

      Andrea, I am so incredibly excited for you! What a wonderful way to celebrate your dad’s memory and adventurous spirit — I’m sure he would be happy that you’re doing what you love too.

  • Jeannie O'Donnell-Northup

    You and Ian are in my thoughts today. I feel badly that you lost your dad at a young age. He was knowledgeable about so many topics, but was always humble about it. I never knew about the who was president quiz..interesting!

  • firmeb

    Emma: I’m thinking of you this Father’s Day. My dad passed away several years ago, but was 92. I’m sorry that you lost your father at such a young age. He seems like a very special person. My dad also had his good points and bad points, but it seems like dads are like that. He was an avid lover of people and places, and passed that on to me as well. Father’s Day is tough for me and I’m spending it cooking and writing – the things that take me completely away from the outside world. I hope that you spend the day in a way that’s beneficial for you and as others have also said really appreciate this post. Best, Beverly

    P.S. The photo on this reply is Second Beach in Middletown, RI – one of my favorite spots.

    • opportunemma

      Second Beach is such a lovely place. It’s nice to meet a non-Rhode Islander who has fallen so in love with my little home state.

      Thank you for thinking of me today. I’m glad you’re spending the day writing and cooking — I’m going to try to spend it doing things I love too. I’m so grateful for the positive responses I’ve received on this post.

  • Lisa Lubin (@llworldtour)

    Wow Emma. Powerful and beautifully written. So sorry for your pain. Forget everything I said about pitching lame travel stories. Your writing is a gift. I see essays like this in your future. In fact, this essay should be submitted. It made me think of my friend Sion. She writes essays and in the last few years has successfully started to submit them to anthologies and contests and such (she blogs about Paris, but also writes. Check out some of the places she’s published..maybe it will give you ideas: http://siondayson.com/creative-work/). I think you should pursue this. And, one more thing in common, she got her MFA in Writing here: Vermont College of Fine Arts. I think i recall you saying you wanted to end up in VT?

  • RTWgirl

    Thank you for sharing this. I appreciated your openness. You shouldn’t feel bad at all about your inheritance and how you spend it. We all react to loss differently. People don’t know how to be, don’t know what to say. We all deal differently. But once we have had a major loss in our life, it’s like we get it. It’s like a secret society.

    I lost my best friend and Mom within a short span of each other. I did a RTW trip because it was the only thing I had any remote interest in after they died. Travel has been my therapy. Pricey but the best thing I could have done for myself. Milestone days/holidays/etc is tough. I just passed Mother’s day and it was rough. It’s just settling in that my Mom is gone.

    My Mom actually died in between continents while I was on a break. I came home to do taxes and she hadn’t told me. She didn’t want me to come back, be sad and quit. And before she died she said don’t quit, keep traveling, keep going and finish what you started. Best advice I can give everyone else too. Hang in there…keep doing what you love. It shows in your writing.

    xo Arnette

  • Steph

    Wow Emma. This post is really beautiful and heartbreaking. I’m so sorry about your Dad.
    I think it’s really interesting what you say about inheritance being viewed positively. I always tell people that “I don’t have rich parents,” but there is still kind of a privilege in that statement, in the having of parents.
    I think you can still enjoy and make the most of that money while still passionately wishing you didn’t have it in the first place. It’s your dad’s gift to you and I bet you are right that he would be happy to see what you’re doing with it.

  • Victoria

    Steph just introduced us on Twitter and I’m so pleased she did. I published a similar post today and can really relate to your story. I bought a house with my parents’ inheritance and now use the income to help sustain my travels. When people say “You’re so lucky to be in that situation”, it’s so tricky to know how to reply. You’re so right about people jumping to positive conclusions when they hear the word inheritance. I hate being the one to have to say ‘Actually, my parents died, which really isn’t lucky at all’. I guess we can never know for sure what the people who have passed would want us to have done with the money, but I’m pretty sure they’d want us to be happy, so, for what it’s worth, as long as you feel happy with what you’re doing, I’m pretty sure it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

  • Andres Calcina

    Yes,Emma, I could understand how you would like to be together for longer. But the life is unsafe and short. You are taking your chance travelling and writing for the people who couldn´t travel other countries. Thank you very much for your stories posted.

  • Anne Parent

    I stumbled onto your blog from your mother’s FB posting. She and I are FB friends, and I think she is just terrific, although I knew your dad much better than I know your mom. I hired your dad as Assistant Director of the Fall River Public Library about 25 years ago. I’m not sure you were even born by then. I believe Ian was quite small at the time. I remember clearly that whenever your dad had child care responsibilities he would refer to having “Yehudi duty,” although I never understood the reference, and still don’t. He was a great guy, Emma, and I was proud to work with him. I can tell you a little more offline if you’d like, but I don’t want to take up this space with personal memories. Suffice it to say here that I wish I had had the opportunity to get to know him better, and I miss him too. It is quite unnerving that I see so much of him in the photos I have seen of you. You have his smile exactly. Send me an email if you wish.

    • opportunemma

      Wow, Anne, thank you so much for reaching out, and for saying I have his smile. You’re right, I wasn’t born when you hired my father, but it’s always nice to hear from the people he knew throughout his life. I’m not sure what “Yehudi duty” means either, but it’s a great example of my dad’s quirks.

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