Today is the fifth anniversary of my dad's death. It still feels so fresh.
I thought it would be nice to tell a positive story about my father. So, here goes...
My father was an infamous workaholic. A sixty hour work week made him feel "lazy." He loved his work, and long periods of inaction were just intolerable to him. His first attempt to retire lasted only a few months, and we were all surprised it last that long.
Given his penchant for work work work, you'd think he'd be miserable on vacation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
My dad believed that vacations were a necessity, and cited several co-workers over the years who "burned out" from all work and no play. As far as he was concerned, vacations made you a better, happier and more effective employee.
Dad was at his best when on holiday. He loved to travel, and loved spending money while doing it. His demeanor was completely opposite of the surly, angry man he was most of the year. On vacations, no one was happier and more fun to be around. Give him a week off and a full tank of gas, and we'd be on our way.
It's no surprise that most of my favorite memories of Dad involved his beloved road trips. I remember seeing Niagra Falls together and how much he enjoyed the guided tour in the caves behind the falls. The camping trips at Jellystone Campground. The swimming trips to Caeser's Creek. The fun of visiting family in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. His favorite table at Grandma's on the rez. The frequent fun days at Dollywood. Trips to swim and find seashells at Hollywood Beach in Florida, his preferred ocean view. His penchant for trying little out-of-the-way local diners for his Southern vacation favorites like biscuits & gravy and liver & onions. Even the car trip was fun, as he would joyfully point out his favorite landmarks and roadside attractions, and the list was very long indeed!
But my very favorite vacation destination with my father? Walt Disney World in Florida.
My great-aunt, with whom my dad was exceedingly close, lived in a suburb of WDW called Lake Wales. We'd stay on her farm, then head out for the park. All in all, I went to WDW nine times. Not bad for a kid who lived in Ohio!
"Love" is not a strong enough word for how my dad felt about WDW. It was like he turned into a completely different person, and that person was obsessed with Disney. He knew every ride, every hidden secret, all the best food and the best places to get those important souviners.
His favorite ride was Magic Mountain, and we always started our Disney day with a Mickey ice cream. And no visit was complete without a photo with the Mouse himself.
Once, we were on It's a Small World and my little sister lost her Minnie Mouse ring in the water. He didn't think twice, he just reached in and grabbed it back. For some reason, that memory is very strong.
The very best of those nine visits was a special occasion indeed: Donald Duck's birthday. His 50th, if memory serves. We got to stay in the park late and see a special fireworks display and have cake. It was so very much fun!
I remember my dad putting me up on his shoulders and telling me that this was no ordinary Disney day. It was a special occasion I would always remember, and it was important to him to bring us there to share it all together.
One of the reasons why it was so memorable, was because my dad did only one impression, and did it spot-on perfect...you guessed it: Donald Duck.
Thanks to him, I am a Disney parks fanatic myself. I read websites, have Pinterest boards and follow YouTubers like Fresh Baked Disney. And I think one of the reasons I've grown to love Disneyland over Disney World is that I know the latter will never be as fun as it was with my father.
And yet, Disneyland brings back some of those same wonderful memories and feelings that I had with my dad so many years ago in the Magic Kingdom. I hope to take my kids to WDW someday, and see it through the eyes of a parent, as my dad must assuredly did.
This year we'll be visiting Disneyland during their Diamond Anniversary. A special occasion we'll never forget, one I know I will be glad to share with my family.
Just like my father would have wanted.