Whether you follow me here or on my other social media channels, no doubt you noticed me talking about several deaths that happened in my world right on top of each other. On January 17th, I lost my dad, on January 21st, I lost my grandpa and on Feb. 2nd I lost a childhood friend. Three deaths in 16 days. Three people who made a difference in our world – two in law enforcement and one forensic psychologist, three people who influenced who I am today.
The death of my dad was the hardest and will continue to be the hardest. He was one of the people I trusted most in this world, one of the people who unconditionally believed in me, one who taught me how to make room for my feelings. As a family, we gathered over Zoom last weekend to say goodbye to my dad, to honor him in the ways we felt best.
And one of those ways, for me, is to honor him this way – to share my love for him and his love for me here. Because in all things my dad gave me safety, which is what is necessary for resilience to truly grow. Space, time & room to heal, grow and finally glow. This was his love language – giving us the freedom to be who we really are and as you’ll read, the gift he asked me to share is to help eliminate shame & guilt from our lives. That’s all I want, all I’ve ever wanted. So grateful to my dad for giving me the tools and wisdom to make that a reality in my world.
I love you and miss you, dad.
A tribute to my dad…
My dad and I shared a love of self-expression. We both could be wordy – which should be a giant hint of what to expect from me – but it was because we saw so much in the world that moved us deeply, so much that sparked imagination and even more that reflected the truth and irony of the real world.
We both spoke in languages that accentuated our ability to share love, allowing us to build a trust and comfort with vulnerability – one that sometimes allowed us to speak without words, to commiserate without details, to connect without expectation. We found a way to communicate even when words felt inadequate.
One of those languages was sci-fi. I mean, I was born the same year Star Wars debuted, so it was fate that I would be a geek. And how excited I was to see Return of the Jedi with him at the Chief theater in Pueblo, it was Star Trek that really became our own special love language.
And I think this quote from Gene Roddenberry summed up dad’s viewpoint so well.
Because the vision that Roddenberry created for this world fascinated dad and I so much, the allegories of our current problems giving us hope for better leadership in the future.
From ethics of the Prime Directive to the judgment of Q, we examined our potential as human beings. We’d have moral debates and relate the show back to our own lives. Both of us sought to live a life of service working for something bigger than ourselves, to make our lives as meaningful as possible.
I rewatch those episodes a lot, especially now when we all need hope for a better future. And in those moments where the show hits the right emotional and humanist chords, I can still feel his hand reaching over to embrace me, a tender grip on my shoulder pulling me to express the resonance of that moment, to share how deeply moved he was, to express a hope so impossibly grand, it almost hurt to speak it out loud.
He made me believe in that vision so much that I chose to make it my life’s work to get us one step closer to that hopeful future.
And so, social justice became our language also. We both needed to make sense of a world that too often was cruel to sensitive souls like him and I. He saw how easily wounded I was by the suffering of others and he gave me avenues to channel my empathy into meaningful change.
His words helped me to reframe my experience away from victimization and toward resilience.
While my mom’s fire and passion give me courage and a boundless drive to make a difference in the world, the type of difference I chose to make comes from the wisdom and guidance of my dad.
Even though Dad wasn’t religious, he heavily influenced how I describe my relationship to the Divine. He encouraged my faith and taught me how to balance it with emotional honesty, intellectual curiosity and cultural humility. He let me explore my spiritual world by providing me a solid framework of ethics and safety (a family business, literally). There were of course things I did that he disapproved of, but he rarely told me that, wanting me to be uninfluenced by his opinion, knowing I saw a truth in things that he couldn’t, just as he saw certain truths that I couldn’t.
More than anything, throughout my life my dad made me feel safe in the times where I felt the most threatened.
Like when I was 13, it was the language of his presence that mattered most to me. I had been plagued with nightly terrors of nightmares, screaming in the middle of the night. Those nights, he would lay beside my bed, holding my hand, talking me through a guided visualization of our annual hike through what we called “the Meadow” a stretch of land near our family’s cabin in the high country.
He would create this bubble of safety until I finally fell asleep. The imagery he used still permeates my meditations today – little yellow, pink and white flowers dotted across small grassy hills, the sounds of nature reminding me that I am supported.
From talking with my siblings, I know that they were no stranger to the language of his “lectures” especially when we did something wrong. It wasn’t that the mistake was highlighted as much as the motivation behind the mistake, the psychology of our choice.
But in some ways, I see how much those lectures were more like a Socratic inquiry of emotion itself, a philosophical exploration of the nexus between what we did and what we felt.
It was a way for him to understand himself through us. He’d ask his psychologist questions and I’d open my heart and spill out my insecurities over my relationships, my frustrations with injustice, or the fears of my personal failure. He helped me define my inner landscape, a skill that has become more valuable the older I get.
My dad hated the language of authoritarianism. While his education and position gave him authority over others, he was disgusted by those who flaunt and abuse their power, who unilaterally impose fear & suffering to solidify their control.
He tried, sometimes successfully, to escape hierarchies of rank and often examined his own privilege to rectify the passive injustice that he saw illuminated in our world.
And so, even though it might hurt his back to do so he’d meet me on my level, literally sitting on the floor with me to play, to listen, to understand, to equalize our conversations.
That was projected into his public self – he was universally known as friendly and generous, and my kids saw him as both Santa Claus and Gandalf, secretly calling him Gran-dolf, the very image of a wise, old wizard with a sparkle in his eye.
To understand my dad is to hear the wisdom expressed in the language of his wit.
He amused himself endlessly with his little quips & witticisms, a trait for wordplay and puns he got from his dad, Clarence – a gift of the Rose heritage, a talent for both learning & expression. He kept a shoebox full of these thoughts under his desk – even had a short comic he was writing. It will take the rest of my lifetime to go through them, but there was one that stood out that I wanted to share today.
Context: In late 1999 the plan had been to move to Denver to work for then Representative Abel Tapia for the legislative session, go to law school and then go out to change the world. But my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer and I was deeply reconsidering my plan so I could stay behind in Pueblo with him.
In the days before my birthday, he had been told he had a 20% chance to live just one year. I had already signed a lease on a new apartment in Denver.
My dad made it a point to tell me to go live my life. To live my purpose by working at the Capitol. He made me leave and he made my brother go with me to ensure I stayed. He visited me at the Capitol a few weeks later, just after he started chemo and was about to do his first radiation treatment. I remember how moved I was that he dressed up to visit me that day, in my little corner desk of a big room we shared with another representative and aide. He put his arm around me and told me how proud he was of me.
Of course, he beat those odds by a good twenty-plus years. At this point he would have said something sharply witty like:
It’s pretty impressive that I 100% beat the odds for 21 years in a row! OR Maybe they got it wrong – it was a 100% chance to live exactly 21 years!
Just a few days before he died, I was helping to organize his desk. He had written this back in 1999, when he thought he was going to die. He made several copies which he kept in his desk drawer, presumably so they would be ready to give to us when this day came.
Breaking cycles of insecurity
My dad was afraid to be a burden to everyone else which reveals yet another language that we shared – insecurity and guilt
For all that my dad believed in everyone around him, he held an undercurrent of anxiety regarding his own self-worth, his own contributions in life, feeling like he hadn’t done or given enough. He was quick to see fault in himself, rather than others, reinforcing old patterns of rejection and anxiety consolidating it into a knot of internalized judgment.
And because I share this trait, I understood the guilt he felt, the shame he punished himself with. I was so defensive of dad – ready to confront those who would trigger that private, internalized pain, ready to put myself on the line to alleviate that pain. That empathetic connection the deepest of our communications.
We talked about this on his last night with us. I had conveyed a message from Andrew Romanoff, who you heard from earlier. He didn’t believe that someone as important as Romanoff might care for him. Andrew responded in big, bold letters…. “WHAT?!?”
Which sort of conveys what we all feel, right?
When I showed him the texts he said, ” I have always felt unworthy, undeserving of the love and attention people give me.” I held his hand, tears mixed with laughter on my face, and reminded him, “I know dad, because I feel the same way about myself. And my son feels that way about himself. too” He looked at me right then, squeezing my hand tighter, his hands cold, but still so strong with life and said, “Well, then it ends tonight. It ends with me, right here. Promise me you’ll let this die here tonight.”
His green and gold hazel eyes locked onto me to confirm that that I had heard him. My head nodding with the rigorousness of my commitment, the words stuck in my throat, sobbing with both joy and sadness.
Joy that he was recognizing the harmful effects of our shared legacy of shame and guilt, but sadness that he suffered for so long with that shame. But, like we always do, we spoke wordlessly, with the love and honesty of our gaze, volumes of mutual respect, admiration and encouragement passing between us.
That night I held the phone as he facetimed with my brother and sister. I watched him tell them how much he was proud of them. He called our partners, Dan, John and Mike, “Good Men” – a phrase he felt unworthy of bearing no matter how many times I forced him to hear it.
He told me often that night that he had acceptance for this moment, that he had lived a good life – the proof of which is seen in his children, his five grandchildren (Brandon, Jennifer, Dylan, Gabe and Leslie). He saw our good deeds as artists, thinkers, and nurturers. And he whispered to me, “maybe by loving and raising you kids, I think I have already changed the world for the better.”
I can say with complete certainty that in the end, my dad did knew how loved he really was.
The only regret I have is that we couldn’t sit down to watch Star Trek: Picard together, my Christmas present that had been waiting for him at home.
I went home from the hospital planning to show up at hospice with the DVDs so we could watch it together, reliving the memories of our special Saturday night KWGN scifi ritual. To hold his hand, creating the same bubble of safety he created for me, allowing the moment to move us.
I wanted to say goodbye by sharing Picard’s journey in that show, as he deals with aging and bravely tries to right the wrongs of his past. That lesson would have reverberated strongly for my dad. I wanted him to see our favorite hero, Jean-Luc Picard, facing his own mortality, amidst a period of political turmoil and growing moral imperatives. I wanted to feel his reaction to this line:
“We have powerful tools: openness, optimism, and the spirit of curiosity. All they have is secrecy and fear. And fear is the great destroyer.”
The task he’s asked of me, of us really, is to release ourselves of the fear, the shame and especially the guilt of our past so we don’t starve the soul of the unconditional love it needs to thrive. He invites us today to live with a vulnerability of openness, a boundless optimism for our vision and with the imagination of curiosity, the true gifts of our humanity.
And so this becomes my sacred charge and in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard:
“Make it So”.
For more on grief…
I also made a video about how I’ve been processing this grief. See more here: