I awoke just before 3:00 this morning and lay in the dark, wondering what had roused me out of a very deep sleep. Today marked the second anniversary of my dad’s death. And as had happened last year, I awoke at the time of his death. 2:54 a.m. Last year I thought it was just a coincidence. Now I’m not so sure.

Bill Dunphy

When my dad died on March 13, 2021, he was 93 and had had what anyone would describe as a full life. (I wrote Bill Dunphy’s obituary, but, honestly, his life was never going to be long enough for me.) He had raised my brother and me, had delighted in his two granddaughters and three grandsons, and had met five of his six great-grandchildren. (My daughter Caitlin had wanted to fly out before a historic snowstorm was to hit Denver, in order to make it to the hospital where my dad was alive for less than 36 hours after being admitted; she knew–but none of us here knew yet–that she was pregnant with Cameron.) And, my dad had celebrated 70 years of marriage to my mom, seven months before, in August.

My dad was the last of his four siblings living. These included the toddler who would have been his big brother had “Baby Bernard” not contracted and died of scarlet fever at three years of age, before my Dad was born. Dad outlived his much older half-sister, and even his younger brother by a couple of years.

My dad, Bill Dunphy, had many friends–church friends, work friends, and friends he met traveling for work. If anyone–other than maybe the other man who had been planning to marry my mom before my dad came along–ever disliked my dad, I’ve never seen or heard any indication of it. (I suspect my dad might even have made friends with my mom’s former beau, but that’s just conjecture on my part.)

My dad, Bill Dunphy, Thanksgiving 2013

The Voice

In my formative years, my dad was a Baptist minister with a genuine smile and a beautiful tenor voice. After he left the ministry, when I was 10, he put that beautiful tenor voice to use at Rosedale Gardens Presbyterian Church, where we became members. He regularly sang solos for the Sunday morning anthem, served as an elder in the church’s session, and performed in the lead roles of the musicals the church put on for many years. He was an unforgettable Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

A Leader

He spent most of the rest of his career in training and development, helping people become better leaders, the kind of leader he was, becoming the Director of Training at Blue Cross and Blue Shield and retiring from Forum Corporation, the management consulting company.

Another Writer

After he retired, he wanted to spend more time writing. And so, he set out to write a book. I had the pleasure of meeting with him in his Northville study weekly, playing editor to the person who was responsible for my love of reading. My dad made the decision to self-publish–because he wanted to spend time writing and less time querying–Voices from The Word (Westbow Press, 2017), written for Bible study groups and individuals. My mom designed the cover of the book. (I was surprised to discover this evening in an online search that my dad’s book is being sold on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, even in paperback at Walmart.)

My dad’s book was published April 17, 2017.

My dad’s book launch was at the church he’d given so much of his time and talents to for over half a century.

Bill’s Book Launch June 9, 2017

He would have loved the invitation he received at the end of last year to come with his book to the 2023 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books next month. What a trip that would have been!

The Best.

He was simply the best dad I could ever imagine having. I would not be the parent or grandparent, the friend or neighbor, the writer or reader, teacher or coach I am today if Bill Dunphy had not been my dad.

The Gift

After my dad died, one of my writing workshops, the members of which had named themselves “The Ladies of the Long Table,” and my longtime Women’s Group (in this case, a proper noun) contributed to the purchase of my dad’s tree. The members of both groups knew what a force for good my dad had been in my life.

Tim Travis from Goldner Walsh helped me, in July of 2021, figure out the right species for the space and the purpose. I selected the individual tree at Tim’s magical tree nursery one day in August, and his crew did a fine job planting such a large tree once an infrastructure project was completed in our neighborhood in 2021, and it was warm enough to plant again the next year.

Goldner-Walsh crew planting the concolor fir April 12, 2022

“My Dad’s Tree”

April 12, 2022, I had a concolor fir planted in my front yard in memory of my dad. An evergreen tree–also known as the white fir or the blue fir–this tree was the perfect tree to plant for my dad. For so many reasons. The story of selecting this tree became the introduction for my book Divining, A Memoir of Trees. I wish he could have read more than the first essay from this new book of mine.

This first anniversary of my dad’s death after the fir tree has been planted is a good time to share what a comfort a tree can be after you’ve lost someone you love, someone who grounded you, who helped you figure out who you were. And, in my case, taught me, by example, how I should be, whether or not the world was working the way it should be. (And if the world wasn’t working the way it should be, guess who had a responsibility to help it change? I know because my dad led by example.)

Tribute Trees

Have you ever considered planting a tree in memory or in honor of a loved one? You can pay tribute to someone by picking out and planting a tree in a national forest, a state forest, or a city park without much effort or cost. Search “tribute tree” online. Or “memorial trees” on your city’s website. It’s a nice option in lieu of flowers when a friend loses someone close to him or her.

But maybe that won’t do for your loss. Maybe the tree needs to be a particular species somehow related to your loved one (my dad and the concolor fir were a perfect match). And, maybe you need the tree to be closer than a national or state forest or a city park. Like a place where you can look out from your desk or up from your dining room table and see it there. Or where you can silently greet it as you head out on your morning walk or when you pull into your driveway in the evening.

I did.

My dad loved Christmas and, in particular, he loved decorating the Christmas tree. This year at Christmas, I wound four strands of the Christmas lightbulbs that look like the vintage ones of my youth around my dad’s tree for the first time.

The Christmas Fir, 2022

March 13, 2023

Today, snow blanketed the branches of my dad’s tree. Tonight, I can see its shape through my study window even now–as dark as this night will get–standing between me and the street, a comfort in my loss.

Like father, like daughter–enjoying a happy evening together between 2000 and 2007