In the summer, my dad’s uniform consisted of shredded denim shorts, hanging frayed over berry brown, sinewy legs, scratched up from thorns on bush treks to fix various water lines, pathways, inconveniently located tree stumps.

He had a stogie behind his ear, and one hanging, burning precariously low, out of his mouth.  He was perpetually bleeding and missing fingernails and dropping his phone in the ocean while tinkering with crab traps, bolts, the kayaks so his grandchildren could float in the water and enjoy the sun glinting on the crystal blue water just as much as he did.

He liked Spam, fried donuts, strong coffee and the fact that he had a (dubuous) six pack at the age of 69.  You couldn’t visit him at the cabin without a long discussion with him about his waterfall, the beauty of the mountains, the fact that this, Deep Cove, was the prettiest place on the planet, as well as being the southernmost glacial fjord, did you know?

There was nothing soft about any of his edges.  He was obstinate to the point of insanity, and he insisted that my leftist politics were a product of my uninformed youth, even as I became a full-on adult.  Especially then. Even with my own stubbornness, I could not convince him of anything he did not already believe.  He pushed his kids hard, believing fully that we were capable of being the very best at whatever we tried.  He bought my Mom trashy magazines and peppermint chocolate and he hurt for days about the broken owl he found on the road.  He and my brother built ice rinks and talked in ehs about fast boats and their summer excursions to remote bays: nothing but coffee mugs and bloody fingers and fishing.

My dad loved his grandchildren with a suddenly soft, blinkingly tender love that came out of left field and stunned me with its power.

When I think of my childhood, I think of my dad beside me, coaching me in my burgeoning track and field hobby. I remember him too-long on my small ten speed bike, pedaling furiously beside me, his smoke billowing in the wind.

“Faster Kristin, faster,” he’d growl and my skinny legs would fly around in front of him, pushing harder, digging deeper, because it was impossible to slack off in front of a man who never understood that anyone was capable of anything less than the power of his own sheer, unstoppable force of will.

He was politically incorrect, smart as fuck, uncommonly fair, unfailingly generous and possessing one of the largest hearts of any human I have ever known.


My dad passed away last night.  He fought for every last second, stubborn and determined and defying expectations, right to the bitter end.

I don’t believe in heaven Dad.  I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe that we all go to the pearly gates if we’ve been virtuous.  What I do believe is that I can see you up there, right now, in the sunshine that’s slanting particularly determinedly through some pretty black clouds right there in front of my window, on the Arm of Water you loved so deeply.

And I can hear your familiar mantra: push deeper Kristin, don’t quit, you guys, dig deeper.  You can do everything you want to do.  And so we will Dad. I promise we will.

letter from nolan