My Dear Father-In-Law

Where to start? Where. To. Start.

Not everybody knows: Chris's dad passed away a week ago. I've struggled with how to write this post--the details aren't mine to broadcast, the pain of it is personal, and fully articulating the scope of this loss is utterly impossible.

So, the basics: Chris's dad's health had been deteriorating throughout the winter, this most rotten of winters. On Monday he was admitted to the ICU. On Wednesday afternoon, the doctor said Chris and his brother needed to come.

Oh, what a night that was here in Maryland. We stayed up waaaaaaaaaaaay too late. Then we got up a couple hours later for Chris to catch his flight west. He was, naturally, not mobile (that ankle injury--did I mention he might need surgery?) and on crutches.

Thursday passed. Friday, Chris said his dad was out of immediate danger and was being moved out of the ICU. Somehow, his body had rallied. Such happiness! Such joy! I reported the good news to everyone I saw on Friday. Phew. A reprieve. More time bought. Because no, nobody was ready. Nobody but him.

On Friday night, the girls slept in my bed with me. I slept in Chris's spot. At the crack of dawn, I woke to the sound of my phone vibrating on his nightstand. It was so early, and I knew it was 3 hours earlier in Nevada. I knew.

I answered, and yes, it had happened during the night. They had gotten a call that they needed to come. Conversations took place, decisions were made, and Chris was there.

I'm so grateful Chris was there to say his last words to his dad, to be with his mom, to be with his brother. I haaaaaaaated being apart. Chris is my . . . he's my Chris. But it was what it was.

What else is there to say?

I'm a secondary witness to this, as daughter-in-law. I've never lost a parent. But I know how much I'm grieving, so I cannot imagine how difficult this is for Chris, or his mom or brother. I cannot imagine. But I do know Bill was at peace. He was married for 42 years to the love of his life. He had two sons who were his pride. He had four granddaughters who were his joy.

And I'd finish this post in such a tidy, bland way if I just ended there. But no. Because I feel very adamantly that it should be known how beloved Chris's dad was. I'm just the daughter-in-law. But there are things I can tell you.

Character. We talk about certain people being a particular brand of decent, but my father-in-law had a depth of goodness that was extraordinary. You want stories? We've got stories. So. Many. Stories. And I'm convinced that he took a number of stories that showed the strength of his character with him. We'll never know all of them.

Wit. Oh, good lord. I never saw my mother-in-law laugh so hard as when Bill would oh so smoothly deliver a one-liner. This man was witty as hell.

Scotch. Every day. Scorbey's.

Story. Stories. He gave Chris the gift of hundreds of his stories.

No bullshit. Bill could read a person or a situation better than anyone. It almost felt as though you had a mind-reader in your midst.

He adored his family, which he demonstrated in his own way---smirks as he observed a granddaughter acting goofy, family trips to his favorite part of Hawaii, the patience of a saint, solid support for each of his sons' endeavors.

He was successful in business but never, ever even remotely snobby. A child of the Great Depression, he had and kept his feet planted firmly on the ground.

When Chris's folks met my folks, Bill told me the next day, "I enjoyed talking with your dad."

I replied with something lame and forgettable.

"Salt of the earth," he went on.

Bill cared about what sort of person you were, nothing else. Oh, he'd be polite to everyone, no matter what, but character mattered.

Being (almost) a generation older than my parents, Bill filled a void I didn't realize I had until he entered my life. I lost both of my grandfathers in the late nineties--one was a quiet, still-waters-run-deep sort of guy, and the other an irreverent wit. Both were very, very good. And I missed them. With Bill, felt like I got some of that back. I adored having that type of patriarch in my life again, someone I could verbally spar with (oh, he thought it was hilarious that I majored in women studies) and who I know would've done ANYTHING for my family.

And this:

Nobody is defined by their parents or upbringing. As Bill himself proved, choices can be made to live honorably, rise above your raising, and somehow never belittle your folks in the process. Bill did that. But Chris? Chris won the dad lottery. And as a result, I won the father-in-law lottery. Because he, with his bride, raised my favorite guy in the entire universe. Chris is a good husband because he had that modeled for him. Chris is a great dad because he had that modeled for him. Chris is a profoundly decent person because he had that modeled for him.

In countless ways, Chris's dad laid the foundation for the good life we live and enjoy now. I'm so, so grateful. I will miss him so much.


  1. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing. The entire Hofmann family have been in our prayers.


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