Yesterday I met with a real estate agent to talk about selling my house, and after seeing my place, she called me a minimalist. I admit, I’m not one for clutter. Turns out that preference doesn’t always sit well with my sentimentality. I find it almost painful to let go of anything that reminds me of someone I love.

Sitting on my desk just off to the left of my monitor is one of the only pieces of “clutter” you’ll find in my place. It’s a little figurine of a man with a small boy on his knee looking up at him. On the base is an inscription that reads, “Any man can be a father…but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.”

I remember walking into my mom and dad’s bedroom as a young boy and seeing this figurine sitting on my dad’s dresser. Young children have fertile, untethered imaginations that can build stories out of the tiniest of things. I turned to my dad, and then pointed to the little statue. “Dad, is this me and you?”

It made sense in my mind. Even though I was the youngest of three kids in our home, the little boy definitely looked more like me than either of my siblings.

“Yes, son, that’s me and you,” he said. From that moment on, every time I saw that little figurine, I knew in my heart that it was me and my dad.

That includes the day, some thirty years later, I saw it bearing a small, fluorescent green sticker. It was sitting in the middle of a big makeshift plywood table outside my parents’ garage. “25¢”

Twenty five cents?!

In a flash, I saw my dad leaving his career as a writer and editor to take a janitorial job at St. Paul Academy, just so that my brother and I could attend the private school tuition-free. I saw him driving our old blue van around the country on one of our family road trips, which were monumental efforts our parents took to be sure we experienced more than our little neighborhood in Saint Paul. I saw my dad walking through the door of my childhood home at 10:00 p.m. for a quick bite to eat before he returned to his print shop in our garage where he’d work another couple hours so there was food in our fridge. I saw him sitting down on the sidewalk with me and my brother to have the awkward sex talk. I heard him talking me through my relationship problems as we sat in the sauna at our old family cabin, reminding me that no one person will ever satisfy all of our needs.

I saw all of those memories sitting on a plank of plywood. For sale.

Our relationship has never been perfect. Of course, that’s the nature of any real relationship…but I couldn’t bear to let that little figurine go.

So here it sits, a reminder of the bond I share with my dad. He’s the person who told me that our relationships with others are what make life rich. Yet one more lesson.

Someday I won’t have my dad. Many of you are probably thinking about your own dads who are no longer with you. About the little things you remember as a child, or the lessons he taught you. Or, if you’re one of the lucky ones, perhaps you’re spending the day with him.

I’m not a dad. It’s just not the way life has worked out for me. There are days when I worry I’ll regret never settling down and having my own family. I sometimes wish that I could raise my own son and teach him about life and being a good person, just like my dad did. Maybe it’ll happen. Maybe it won’t.

But for now, as I glance over at the little figurine, I’m grateful to have one of the best gifts the world has to offer.

A dad.

Nick Coughlin

Nick Coughlin is the founder and publisher of Compassionate Man. He lives in South Minneapolis with his two dogs, Onyx and Boli. You can reach him by emailing nick@compassionateman.com

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