A Birthday Tribute to My Dad and Cinderella- Life Lessons in Love

Dulcie was always a part of our birthday celebrations!

Today, February 15, would be my dad’s 92nd birthday. My dad never wanted to make a fuss over his birthday, but I always did. He deserved it. My dad taught me so much about life, integrity, generosity and loyalty, as well as the importance of a sense of humor and of being able to laugh at yourself. I strive to make him proud because I know he’s watching over me. It remains surreal to celebrate his birthday just two days after marking the anniversary of his passing and remembering that eight years ago I spent this day knowing that his funeral would be the day after his birthday. Still, his birthday is a time to honor his life and my love for him.

It may be inconceivable, but my dad was not a fan of Disney animated films. After all, he was a Marine! Who would have thought that I could draw a connection between my dad and Cinderella? Well, I can! Cinderella and my dad share a birthday, since the movie Cinderella was released by Walt Disney Productions on this date in 1950! She has remained dear to my heart since childhood because she was the first princess I loved. Of course, when I was growing up there were not as many Disney princesses, but as I have grown up, I have found that there is more to Cinderella than what meets the eye. She appears simply sweet and naïve in her dreams of love, but she had feistiness and determination, and also a loyalty to her father’s memory that I share with all my heart. It was very hard for her to lose both of her parents, but she let their lessons and moral compass guide her. Cinderella’s loyalty to her parents is made even more clear in Disney’s 2014 live action version of the story. It is something I completely understand to my core. I cannot ignore that while Cinderella had her sweet mice friends, my dad and I had our love of dogs and animals.

Cinderella knew the importance of integrity and the power of dreams, and in the end, all of those qualities got her the love of the prince of her dreams and a position of respect! She knew with all her heart that, despite her stepmother and stepsisters treating her horribly, “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” There’s a good life lesson. I know that people sometimes think I’m unrealistic because of my Disney love and its connection to wishing and dreaming. On the contrary, as the caregiver for my dad and for Ben, I was hit with harsh realities on a daily basis. Dreaming and wishing were my escape. They encouraged me to find creative ways to solve problems. And, they allowed me to envision a future where my dad and Ben had peace and comfort and I could stand alone and live happily with them in my heart. Now, as I work through grief, dreams help me to redefine myself and reshape my life. No one can tell me that dreams are not valuable and important.

During caregiving days, when my dad and/or Ben was struggling, knowing that in the end I was going to lose them, it was easy to lose hope and optimism. In those times, I had to thank goodness for the insight and “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. For me, the dreams and the wishes got me through very difficult and sad days of terminal illness and caregiving and feeling that nothing I did really mattered. There were no cures, no one was going to get better, and things were becoming more difficult. But, I could dream, and those dreams helped me keep the faith.

Maybe you don’t literally talk to your Fairy Godmother, but I imagine that a lot of readers have had a similar conversation with someone, or with themselves, and questioned their faith that they could handle things or that things would be okay. If you have not done that but find yourself with lots of jumbled thoughts, talking, writing, journaling or any form of art or craft are ways to explore your self expression.

There is a song in Cinderella called, So This is Love.  Though the song is about romantic love, the title is significant. When we are watching someone struggle with illness or we are struggling with caregiving responsibilities, we accept these challenges, and embrace them, because this is love. It’s that simple. And, that complicated.

At the heart of the film is the song A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.

A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you’re fast asleep.
In dreams you will lose your heartaches.
Whatever you wish for, you keep.
Have faith in your dreams, and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through.
No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing,
The dreams that you wish will come true.

I’ve always been a dreamer who wished for the fairytale ending. Sometimes I think that it’s a matter of perspective. I do believe that my wish came true that my dad and Ben are both at peace, even though grief is hard for me and times like these past few days are quite sad and lonely. I’ve written before that I will wish for and dream about cures for ALS, and also for cancer and the many other horrible diseases. Sometimes it seems futile, but I remember that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother said, “Even miracles take a little time.”

Cinderella (1950) Walt Disney Productions

My dad called me his Private Benjamin, but I was also his Cinderella- his treasured princess- and I will always keep his spirit alive and let him guide me.

Happy Birthday, Daddy! I always hear your giggle in my head and I love and miss you!

You could take the man out of the USMC but you couldn’t take the USMC (or the camouflage) out of the man!