What can you say about a 45-year-old dad who died? That he was handsome. And smart. That he loved Bob Seger and Otis Redding. And Sinatra. And me.
OK, I stole that from the opening lines of Love Story, but ever since I watched that movie in my sorority house’s TV room, I’ve thought how it applied to my dad who died so young. He loved more than me, though. He loved my brother, my mother, his dad, his family, his business, and the women who came in and out of his life. He loved being on Lake Hamilton on the biggest boat on the lake, using it to hide behind his insecurities. He loved chicken fettucine alfredo and milkshakes, and he worried constantly about his weight. He did sit-ups every morning for his back problems and swam laps in the pool.
Johnny Burnett graduated from Henderson State University in December 1970 with a BS in Economics. Starting out, he sold cars, but he wanted to be an entrepreneur. He wanted to please his father and make him proud. He wanted to be a big fish in a small pond and to live large, to exceed his father’s success. He opened a few liquor stores and then after installing an oval swimming pool in our backyard, he transitioned to selling swimming pool kits where people could install their own DIY swimming pool, or daddy would send a crew out to build one for you. His quirky radio jingle even said something like, “Any durn folk’ll build a hole in the ground, take all your money and move out of town. But if you want quality and service you can bet, call Johnny Burnett.” And he stood by that.
I’m not here to write an obituary. To be honest, I’m struggling with what to write today, so I decided to share what I’ve written over the years through Facebook posts.
From Key West, FL): Cheers to Johnny Burnett! We always toast to him with his fave drink: Crown Royal and Diet Coke with a splash of Amaretto. We miss you today (29 years later) and every day, daddy.
To Dad, wherever you are:
By now, I’ve lived more days than you, and that is so weird to me. Like, I’m the same age as your peer group when you died, and I have a million questions for you about where I should be in my life right now. I still miss you, but it doesn’t sting as much, except when I think of how cheated I was with a life without you. Jason and I only had you for a fraction of our lives, but you felt like a lifetime. When I have dreams about you, it’s such a treat! But last week I had a dream that I crossed paths with your murderer at a women’s conference. I literally yelled at her from across the room: “You’re a murderer and everyone knows it! I am his daughter, and you did this to me! Look at what you’ve done!” She didn’t say anything. No one said anything, and I left the event in a huff. It was only a dream.
Even after 27 years, I still ask myself, “Did this really happen?”
I love you, wherever you are!
“This is Johnny,” is how he would answer the phone. This time 25 years ago, my dad woke up to a sunny Sunday morning on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark., having no idea this would be the last sunrise he’d ever be alive to see.
I watched a show about the 90s recently and got a whole new perspective on that decade. For me, the 90s were a miserable blur because this man (here in the photo sitting on his 32′ Excalibur ski boat, a typical pose I saw summer after summer [photo not included in blog]) died too soon. In college and into my 20s, I behaved erratically and made impulsive decisions. To say I struggled internally would be an understatement. But none of this is odd when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one (in your 20s, no less).
Over the years, I’ve watched friends lose loved ones and I’ve seen them grieve, even though they don’t know I recognize it. But I never know what to say because it triggers my own pain, and you’re on your own journey that you alone can take. I know what it’s like, and I’m one of your most empathetic allies. However, I can tell you that a change does finally manifest in a way that will unlock peace and acceptance.
I’ll continue this journey without him, and even though I am at peace, I will never stop thinking of him or learning about myself and who I am because of him (and my mom). And I want to say that it’s okay if you let go of someone, too. We are all just souls – every one of us – and we will always be connected.
He would always say, “Get happy!” when he wanted us to smile. These 22 years still feel like a dream I had yesterday. I’ll never stop missing you, daddy.
I love what my brother wrote, so I had to share it. We both had different experiences of the last day we saw our father. Mine was seeing him in his office. I told him I loved him as I walked out the door, not knowing those were the last words I’d ever say to him. There is so much more I would give anything to say. Love and hug the ones you hold close to your heart and drink a Crown and Diet Coke today if the mood strikes you.
Jason: 22 years ago was the last time I saw my father alive. He was docking his boat. The boat in my cover photo. I have to drive near the spot when passing through Hot Springs from time to time. The boat was sold and who bought it lived in the same building. He has used the same dock for 22 years. It is still there. I guess the boat still runs even though that day it was having problems. You can see it from the bridge on 70 over Lake Hamilton if you know where to look. An empty strange and gutted feeling I get when I see it. The boat is there frozen in time and like a personal memorial to the bond we had that day. It is tough because I still feel like I lost so much, and we were robbed of more life experiences together and fun times on the lake. I share this with you because I know some of you can understand.
Missing you, daddy. Today was 21 years.
From “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
It was 19 years ago today that my daddy turned into an angel, or at the very least, a ghost who has kept me out of trouble! The mind is a miraculous machine because all I have to do is close my eyes and I can remember everything about him. If you knew my dad (or wish you did), enjoy a Crown and Diet Coke with lots of ice today!