Wednesday, August 19, 2009


My father, Edwin John Wagner, died today, two days short of his 83rd birthday. He had been battling cancer for several years and waged a valiant fight. Since he had been ill for so long, my brothers and I had time to prepare for his going, never the less, the death of a parent takes a piece of a child’s soul with it.

My dad wasn’t the perfect figure of a father. He expressed to me several times that he had never intended to be a family man; never intended to or had any interest in having children. Still, here we are, myself and two brothers with children of our own. I do not know why my father felt the need to tell me, his child, that we were essentially unwanted by him. I can speculate, but I’d rather not since he did not tell me this in anger or regret so much as it being an excuse for his shortcomings. We are what we are and we work with what we have. Hopefully, we give the best that we are able.

My dad was a high school teacher when I was young, but when I started kindergarten, he began law school and became a lawyer when I was in 4th grade. He was a liberal through and through and as such had a soft spot for the down trodden. He seemed to take the cases no one else wanted because of their inability to pay and as a result, he was not an attorney of means; he made a middle class living in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. M
any times he would barter for his services and some guy would show up at the house to fix the furnace, or the roof or mow the lawn or work on the car.

He loved to golf above all else, and my brothers and I will be scattering his ashes at his favorite course
soon. He made many of his friends on the golf course and I am sure, spent his best hours there in the sunshine on the green of a closely cropped lawn, whacking the heck out of that little white ball.

My children did not know him well since he lived in Ohio and we in Virginia; Meika, my youngest, has never met him, but Lily has spent time with him and can remember for her sister. In his battle with cancer his right ear was removed several years ago, there after Lily would get on the phone with him and each time ask if his ear had grown back yet. This made him laugh, and I’m grateful that she did so; to be able to laugh at one’s self is an estimable quality.

I have always heard my father introduce himself as ‘Ed’ Wagner, yet curiously it seems many of those outside his family called him ‘Eddie’, even those who had just met him. I was amazed to call the hospital recently
and when a nurse answered the phone and I asked to speak to him I heard her say, “Hey Eddie, it’s your daughter on the phone.” It made me wonder, what made him ‘Eddie’ to so many? It remains a mystery to me, but there must be a reason and perhaps someday I will know what it is. His siblings and parents called him ‘Bud’, which was short for ‘Buddy’. When my dad arrived on the family scene in 1926, his older brother Harold began calling this new playmate his “little buddy” and the nickname stuck. I think I was about ten years old before it occurred to me to ask my Grandmother why my dad was being referred to by the name ‘Bud’. (That's him on the right with several of his siblings)

My father was quite talented artistically, but didn’t often use his gifts. There remain a few paintings and drawings and I believe that from him I inherited my artistic abilities. It is those abilities that have led me to a career illustrating books and several years ago I contracted to illustrate an archaeology book written by a well known archaeologist here in Virginia. He had grown up in Ohio and it turns out he attended the high school my father taught at in the 1950s. My father coached him in football and he told me that my dad had been an enormous influence on him in those early years of his youth. That ‘Coach Wagner’ had advised him and supported him when he desperately needed someone to do so. He also knew my mother and her family; his elder sister was my mother’s best friend in high school. And here I was thirty years later illustrating one of his books; a book he said that he was able to be successful at writing in part due to my father’s encouragement and lessons in determination. Wow, talk about full circle!

He coached a lot of athletic teams in his school teaching days and as a young child I would jump at any chance to be with him. He went to every basketball game at the high school at which he taught, even if he wasn’t coaching and I always asked to go just so I could spend time with him alone. To this day, the sounds of a basketball game; the pound and squeak of sneakers on a highly polished wood floor, the ping of a well inflated ball, the overly loud buzzer sounding the end of the game, and the smell of popcorn takes me straight back to standing in the door way of a high school gymnasium, my dad towering above me, arms folded, shouting encouragement or insult in the direction of the game.

There was also a time when my father decided to attend Mass each morning before work in addition to
Sundays, and I would drag myself out of bed in the wee hours of the bitterly cold Ohio winter mornings so that I could go with him just to have him to myself. We never spoke, I just tagged along in silence, but it was enough just to be with my dad, hoping to win his approval in any way I could, kneeling beside him in the nearly empty, echoing church.

I know that I have spent much of my life seeking that approval and attention from my father; his praise did not come easily, and I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, but it did, it trailed after my life silent, but ever present. It mattered. And then after adopting my second daughter Meika almost a year ago, he told me more than once how very proud he was of me, that I was a good and loving mother to two children who needed one. I had waited fifty years, but in the end my dad was proud of me and told me so. And look at what he was proud of me for, not for any accomplishments of career or fame or fortune, but for being a parent; a good parent, the very thing that he professed to have not wanted and claimed not be good at. Circles of living experiences. Circles of deep emotion. Circles of life. Within me and my brothers and our children the good in my father will live on.

©KKW August 19, 2009


Kate said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. If there is anything I can do, please let me know.


Debby said...

I'm sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful tribute to a well loved dad.....

Mike Wagner said...

It was always difficult to get a sense of, let alone be sure of, approval from our fathers and their siblings. They were all so damned sure they were right about everything. I guess they were all so smart and competitive that it took a long time for them to come down off their respective pedestals and realize that there was a new generation that needed them to confident and caring instead of arrogant and aloof.

I am so happy to hear that you finally heard your dad say that he was proud of you. My dad tells me that often and those words will be with me forever.

I will miss my uncle Ed. I am glad to be getting to know you again. Keep writing.

Kim Kelley-Wagner said...

Thank you, your words mean a lot. It was a difficult, but honest piece to write. Relationships can leave one's heart torn in so many different directions, pulling back those threads to bundle them up and attempt to make sense of them is a real life's challenge...and privilege.

Jenny Marston said...


What beautiful, honest words. So sorry for your loss. I can't even begin to imagine the feeling.


Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear about you Dad. I had a very similar relationship with my Dad, except he was the farmer and loved to go to auctions! I would take off work just to go with him! Losing a parent is very hard, and my thoughts are with you.

Deb Harrop

Anonymous said...

This was beautiful. My dad died when I was two. I wish I could have shared any moments with him.

trina said...

What a wonderful tribute to your dad. The picture with your daughter is so precious. Praying for God's peace for your family.

Tracy said...

An honest and loving tribue. I think in some way our fathers could have been related.

Blessed Mom of Four, Now Five said...

How awesome that he saw the best in you, the best in the parent in you that he was not able to be.
Praying for your sweet peace,

ourchinagirls said...

I recently lost my father. He also was 83, would have been 84 in October. My mother passed away in 1997 after a long battle with cancer that my father and I was a part of. My father was diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks before he died and he flat out told us that he would NOT fight cancer. He was true to his word, he committed suicide 7/21/09. While my heart is greiving his loss, I understand why he did what he did. He was a very proud, stubborn and sometimes cranky old man, but that was who he was and I love him for always remaining his true self. I am now like my Chinese-American daughters were when they came to orphan. But fortunate to have been blessed with memories of my parents and I still have my four beautiful daughters!

Angela said...

Sorry for your loss.

Jim said...

Sorry about your Dad Kim, Jim

Anonymous said...

I went on house calls with my Father. We spent many evenings and weekends in the car singing and talking while he was on the way to seehis patients. It was a big part of us being together. I also worked in his office for years, at first writing down names and either $3 or $5 for a visit, great record keeping.

I am sorry for your loss. I love reading about and seeing your daughters. Lilly is lovely and Meika adorable. You are the wonderful mother that you always knew you would be. I love you very much.