Truth be told, this year has been full of days to remember. Living in Europe for a year kind of has that effect. But the day I’m writing about today — the day my family and I remember today — is the day my dad died. No matter how many times I’ve talked about it or written about it over the past few weeks, it still seems unreal that 15 years have passed since November 23, 1997. And come next year I’ll reach that unavoidable milestone in which I will have lived as many years without him as I did with him (I was 16 when he passed away). In so many ways it seems like just yesterday. And at the same time it seems like forever ago …
Every year on this day my family and I come together in some way to remember my father. It’s always something different, but it’s always something. Often times we’ll gather together for dinner. We visit his grave. Emails usually get passed around in the days leading up to today. One year I made ‘care packages’ in honor of my dad, complete with all of his favorite sweets (and a small bottle of rum, of course). As many of you know, I’ve been known to share some sort of tribute to him in writing on my music website. (A few of which can be read here, here and here.) My brothers have also both written about him in the past. Ben shared this essay with us in 2008 and went on to write an entire book about him. Mike posted this on his blog this past April.
Obviously, with my being in Germany this year, I won’t be able to physically be with my family today (which usually isn’t a problem since it falls right around the Thanksgiving holiday). It won’t be the first time I’m out of town on this day (I remember being on a Bucks road trip or two), but it’s the first time I’ll be out of the country. And as it turns out, I won’t even be in Germany. This morning Katie and I will hop on a plane and head to Wroclaw, Poland. We’re going to spend the weekend there and enjoy one final country visit before this wonderful year (and blog) comes to an end. It’s a chance to put a 16th notch in our “Countries Visited” belt, but more importantly, it’s a chance to connect with the Polish roots that we both have. Having lost both my grandparents in the past year, I’m especially looking forward to the trip (my grandpa was a proud, proud Polish man).
But as we leave Munich and fly to Poland, I assure you that my thoughts will be of my father, from whom I have my German heritage and of whom I’ve thought about often while exploring the wonderful state of Bavaria during what I can now say has been the greatest year of my life. I spent the early part of this year doing some family research on the Wessel side. My goal was to trace us back to a city where I might be able to visit and look up some family records. Alas, I was only able to trace us back to the area of Baden-Baden, but nothing more specific — and even that could be wrong. (Still, I felt mighty proud when we stopped in Baden-Baden on our way back from Basel in September.)
My efforts to trace our German starting point were coupled with separate efforts to learn more about my father from his two brothers, Dan and Bill, and his sister, Mary. We exchanged several emails — me asking questions and them sharing answers. It was funny when their answers contradicted one another, but for the most part they were able to give me some insight into Tom Wessel that I had never before had. I have my memories, my mom’s memories and the memories of my siblings, but until earlier this year I had never really tapped into the memories of my dad’s siblings, at least not collectively. I learned that he began his college career at IU-Jeffersonville before transferring to Indiana University (he’d love the fact that the Hoosiers are ranked #1 this year). I learned that he didn’t learn to play the guitar until after college (a wise hobby to pick up as it helped him meet my mom). I learned that, when he was young, my grandma used to tie one end of a piece of rope around his waist and the other around a tree so he could play in the backyard without running away. I learned that his best subject was math. I learned that he was usually optimistic (but sometimes frustrated) when talking to his siblings about his cancer battle. I learned a lot.
I guess all of this is to say that my coming to Germany was more than just a chance for Katie and I to see the world. It was a chance for me to spend some quality time with thoughts about my dad and to dig a little deeper into the life of a man who continues to shape who I am today, even 15 years after saying good-bye. Even though I wasn’t able to consult him as to whether or not we should make this move, I always imagined he would have told me to go for it. (I also like to think he would have loved this blog.)
I miss you, dad. I’ll be thinking of you today, like every day.