She almost fell off her chair with laughter.
“What did you just call Daddy?” she asked me, interrupting my story and giggling so much she could hardly get the question out.
“I called him ‘some guy’,” I answered with a laugh because her giggles floating through the air were contagious.
“But Daddy’s not ‘some guy’ – he’s DADDY!”
“But he wasn’t always Daddy, Beary Girl. First, he was just a guy I worked with,” I started counting off on my fingers, “then he was my boyfriend, then my fiancé, then my husband, then your Daddy.”
“I just can’t believe you called him ‘some guy’, though! Why did you call him that?”
“Well, goofy girl, if you let me finish the story,” I reached down to tickle her side, sending her off in giggles again, “you might find out!”
While I gave her a minute to catch her breath, I thought about the trip we were getting ready to take, the trip that prompted my story. A road trip to Mount Rushmore, a good twelve or so hours away, in our new-to-us minivan. A trip her Daddy and I had talked about taking, that early spring in 2013 when we knew time was getting short and we wanted to cram in as many minutes of life as we could. We booked a flight to Hawaii, got out a map and circled all the places we could find within reasonable driving distance, checked airline miles and hotel points, and planned to travel with our girl. But we didn’t plan fast enough and cancer caught up to us. His body was too tired, too worn out.
He died before we could hit the road.
But this year, I pulled out those plans, dusted them off, asked myself, “Can I do this?” and decided that yes, I could, and yes, I had to – for Kevin, for our girl, and for me. I didn’t want to leave his dreams undone if I could help it. She and I sat down and planned our route – where we’d stop, what we’d see, how long we’d drive each day. It turned out the fastest route to Mount Rushmore took us right through Omaha, Nebraska. And took me smack dab into a whole lot of memories. Things I hadn’t thought about in years, but were special, funny moments that I wanted my daughter to know about, so she could learn more about her wonderful Daddy, the Daddy who had to leave her much too soon.
My first trip to Omaha was in 2002 with my sister and her two kids, ages two and nine at the time. We’d heard the Henry Doorly Zoo was amazing, and it wasn’t too long of a drive with a couple of kids, so we loaded them up and took off for the weekend. When in Omaha, one must eat steak, so I found a local steakhouse – the site of my later infamous “some guy” remark. When I ordered a filet mignon, I told my nephew, “Now, I’m going to try this with some butter on it, because some guy at work claims it’s the only way to eat a good steak.” Sitting side-by-side in our cubicles at work, Kevin had heard me talking about my weekend trip to Omaha, and, being a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, offered up his favorite steak-eating tips. I listened because even though he was just some guy at work, I’d already starting thinking I’d like him to be more. I wanted to go back to work and tell him I tried a steak with butter and it was as fabulous as he’d said it would be. I wanted him to know I listened and I wanted him to figure out I wanted him to be more than “some guy”.
It turns out butter on steak is great, and I told him so as soon as I got back to the office.
And two months after my first trip to Omaha, Kevin and I had our first date.
“Are we going to eat at that restaurant, Mama? Can I have butter on my steak, too?” My Bear had stopped giggling and looked at me expectantly as I finished that part of the story.
“We might. It depends on what time we get there. And, yes, you can have butter on your steak.”
“Mmmm…steak,” she said dreamily. She’s her Daddy’s daughter all the way.
While she thought about steak, I thought about the next part of my Omaha story.
By November 2004, Kevin and I had been married for a little over a year. We were both in our thirties and we wanted nothing more than to start a family right away, but it just wasn’t happening. We were about to dive headfirst into the world of fertility treatments and I was depressed and sad and scared and a million other emotions. But Kev was my rock. He set aside his own disappointment and took care of me. He called me at work for no reason, he held me when I cried all night, and when we realized what we were up against, he said, “We need to get away for a few days.” We’d just watched “About Schmidt”, a movie set in Omaha and, it turned out, a few scenes were filmed at the “some guy” steakhouse – Johnny’s. When Kevin found out I’d been there, and the part it had played in our little romance, he wanted to go there, too. He did some more research and found a mystery theater dinner train in the Omaha area and some World War II planes. That was my Kev: always taking care of me, thoughtfully planning a perfect weekend getaway: the zoo, the Strategic Air & Space Museum, some good steak, and the dinner train.
And it was perfect. I can still close my eyes and hear Kevin’s voice reading the script on the dinner train, because he was one of the lucky guests to be chosen for a part. And I love the photo of us at Johnny’s, in the spot where Jack Nicholson stood in the movie. And I especially loved ordering a filet and trying to tell Kevin with a straight face, “You know, some guy once told me to put butter on my steak, that it would taste so good. You should try it.” I couldn’t make it through my sentence without giggling, especially when Kevin started in with his rumbling laugh. And even when we got back from that weekend and the doctor told us we had less than a 1% chance of conceiving a child, God had other plans. Plans that included a curly-haired baby girl with her Daddy’s face. It wasn’t an easy road, but it was worth every hard minute of the journey when, after an emergency cesarean, the doctor held up our little Bear and Kevin hugged me, with tears streaming down our faces.
My girl and I didn’t end up eating at Johnny’s Steakhouse when we stopped in Omaha on our trip last month. We found a different steakhouse, close to the hotel. The instant I saw it, though, I knew Kevin would’ve loved it. It was very old school, red leather and ornate, and had all the touches he loved in a good steak restaurant. Forever her Daddy’s girl, the minute I started reading from the children’s menu, “There’s chicken fingers…” I was interrupted with, “Mama, no one comes to a steakhouse to eat chicken!” And I thought, You are so right, Baby Kev. And, little girl, thank you for giving me another memorable story about Omaha to add to my collection.
From some guy to boyfriend to fiancé to husband to Daddy. It makes my girl laugh to think about it, but it makes me smile. He was all that and more.
I’ll keep telling my girl the stories that make her laugh, and stories that make her think, and stories about the man I loved, the man who adored her, the man she should’ve been able to get to know on her own, in his words not mine. And all of them will begin the same way.
Once upon a time, there was some guy at work. And, it turned out, he went on to be other amazing things: a great boyfriend, a wonderful husband, a compassionate friend, and a doting and loving Daddy.
And in telling my stories, our girl will see: It takes some guy to be all that.