Beyond Blue

“The Way I See It #199,” on my Starbucks coffee cup Saturday morning (a quote by Berkeley Breathed, the cartoonist and creator of “Opus”): “I’m not sure about people anymore. They’re responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I’m crazy about though.”

In recovery language, we say “Love the person, hate the behavior” (or disease–like alcoholism). I needed that reminder last Saturday.

Once a year my sisters and I pilgrimage to Small Town, Indiana, to do our version of the Stations of the Cross–we remember our dad and celebrate his amazing vision, incredible determination, and business savvy as we meet with the fellow shareholders of a company he started with three guys when we were babies. Even if we held one teeny share in the company, we’d continue the tradition, because it makes us proud to be a “Johnson girl.”

Each year is a bit like a wake–it’s bittersweet.

As more and more time elapses between now and the January night my dad died, the stories about him grow more imaginative–the trout caught on the Michigan fishing trip is that much bigger, and the Mexico excursion even more hysterical.

As death often does to memory, snapshots of my dad have been touched up with Photoshop. (Like how Scarlett Johansson has absolutely no cellulite on her legs in that Vogue cover shot.) Anyone eavesdropping on the testimonies might think we are talking about Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, or John F. Kennedy.

I saw and appreciated all those positive characteristics in him, too. But when my dad’s former business partner asked me for some photos of him, I had to tell the truth–I didn’t have any.

That made me sad.

I’d love to have a collection of photos of my dad and me at picnics and museums and piano recitals and high school and college events. But I don’t. And as much as I respect him for building his company and pursuing his dreams, it did come at the cost of our relationship.

That makes me even sadder.

How do I remember my dad? He was incredibly bright, driven, witty, charming, determined, creative, insightful, sensitive, and loveable. Let me say that again. Very loveable. But he was also selfish, stubborn, and at times self-destructive (or sick). The latter three adjectives are why I have few photos to share with my son David, who asks me from time to time about his “other grandpa,” and why I’m empty-handed with regard to Dad’s ex-business partner’s request.

I loved my dad, but boy did I hate his behavior at times. I was (am) crazy about him–but his actions…they left a few scars.

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