GriefSpeak – A Letter to My Father

By Mari Dias

Waiting for Dad

This is my 17th Father’s Day without you, and it still feels like it was yesterday. I miss you, Dad.

As a young girl, I remember my frustration of having to wait until you came home from work before we were allowed to eat dinner. I thought it was unfair. Mom’s nightly mantra was:

“Your father works to pay for this food on this table. It’s only fair to wait for him.”

“But Mom, it’s 9pm – almost bedtime and we are still waiting for Dad!” 

Did you know this Dad?

I spent a great deal of time waiting for you, Dad. Not just for dinner. Your work hours were unreliable and during our family summers at the beach house, you would drive down for the weekends. I looked forward to those weekends. I waited for you. Chasing rabbits with the car, your high beams on so we could follow them in the darkness that were the old tunnels at Fort Greene. Scary and exciting.

Do you remember my sleepover at the beach house? All my friends at the “pajama party” were enthralled with your antics? You were always so funny and fun.

Remember the one summer I was lucky enough to drive back to the “city” with you every Monday morning. I had to take driver’s education. We always stopped at Snoopy’s Diner for breakfast. A rare treat, just father and daughter. I hope you appreciated this special time as well.

Remember your Friday nights out with the boys, waking us all up upon your return with live lobsters crawling around the kitchen floor? You were always a prankster.

I loved to hear Nanny tell stories of you as a young boy. She always bragged about your intelligence, citing the fact that you skipped two grades. I was in awe! Remember the day you came home late, and Nanny was worried about you? You eventually showed up late, but with a pony in tow!

You could be tough though, Dad. Particularly with boyfriends – none that really met with your standards for your only daughter.

And your laugh! You had such an infectious one – just listening to you laugh resulted in a cacophony of hysterics- although no one knew what we were laughing about, including ourselves!

Even towards the end when Parkinson’s Disease had taken its toll, you were self- deprecating. You continued to golf, and your friends would tell us that you fell out of the golf cart and rolled down the hill, laughing the entire time!

Seriously though, Dad. At a very early age, you instilled in me the value of education and a philosophy of my place in the world.

“Mari, there is no such word as ‘can’t’, only ‘won’t’.”

I’m not sure if you ever realized how I took that philosophy to heart, and repeated it thousands of times to my students, my children, and my clients. I’ve used it as a driving force in life and work. Thank you for that.

I still wait for you Dad. You’ve come in my grief dreams, dressed in a belted, khaki raincoat, offering me a homemade custard pie. I feel your presence whenever I smell your cigar wafting from downstairs in my home, or your cologne on someone sitting next to me at the movies.

On really difficult days I wear your old bathrobe; you know the teal, brushed cotton one? I still have your grey running shorts as well. They are big, but when needed I roll up the waist a few times. Just once in a while. Once in a while I look at old pictures and think about how the family has grown. You have 4 great grandchildren now. Your grandsons work at the funeral home along with your sons. I am still teaching, working with clients, and volunteering. Whenever I’m confronted with a choice, I ask myself:

“Is this a ‘can’t’ or a ‘won’t’”. And if my response is “can’t”, I hear your voice, loud and clear, and know that I – can. Always. You would be proud.

Happy Birthday and Happy Father’s Day to my dad.

Robert A. Nardolillo, Sr. 1929-2003

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to: