October 7, 2011

on October 8, 2005. my dad died. that could destroy a person.


(before you start... 
scroll down to the playlist and select the song "The Call" 
....then start reading) 


 "Remember, you’re my sweetheart.  That’s not to make you homesick.  That’s to let you know you’re my sweetheart and I’m proud of you and I very much appreciate your talking to me.  Be as brave as you can.  Being brave is not not being afraid.  Being brave is facing the things that make you afraid or sad."

-my dad.



 Growing up, we had this small bear in our kitchen window.

It was made of glass.

And in the morning it would catch the sunlight and throw rainbows around the kitchen.
They would land on the floor, the dog, the fridge, our laps.

They would race up the wall and paint our squinty-eyed faces.

Dad would stop you in the kitchen. to make sure you saw these.


I think that's where I want to start.

I want to start with those rainbows.


Tomorrow is October 8th,  So, I'm going to talk about my dad.

Because you never. 

just. get. over. it. 

And he may not be alive. 

But love is.

And so. in the dark. when I need him. and cry for him. 
I have to remember this.

Because it often sounds like I have it all together. and have wrapped my mind around everything.

But, I don't. and I haven't.


So I have to remember what he told me. 

He is here. 

He said so.

We talked about it. When he was very brave.


So see, it isn't possible that he has completely disappeared.

Because he said he wouldn't. 

And, he always said, "would I lie to you?"


For the sake of coping, it is possible to distract yourself so much that little details are gone.

and I am in a battle to make sure that never happens. 


So I am apologizing now for the stream of consciousness parade.

I'm about to go all James Joyce on you.

Here is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

My dad's mother died when he was a little boy.

After that, he used to sit in front of the TV. very close. staring.

when asked why he was doing this, 

he said, people on TV aren't in real life. 

so he was 

looking for his mom.


this picture kills me. he's adorable.


My dad grew up to be a teacher. 

And then he worked for the Virginia Education Association (VEA) for nearly 40 years. 

where he cared so much about teachers that he spent every day fighting for them. 

And thinking of brilliant ideas to support them. and encourage them.


And, the minute he died, we started receiving mountains of letters and notes about the effect he had on his friends and coworkers. We read them over and over and over. Because they were glorious and comforting in such a dreadful moment.

We LOVED every single one we received.

Every kind word.

And every story.

Especially those who worked with my dad out of state. and we never met. but who knew everything about our family.

And their impressions of my dad matched ours. 

He was a teacher. writer. thinker. dreamer. and magician.

I know I have said that before. but I state facts.

I literally found a wand in the attic.


He made it clear that the only thing you should do. 
is what you love. 

and what moves you.

An article came out in VEA News when he died that quoted,

"he was a great idea person as well as a great booster of other people's work."


I think that is such a dear compliment.

And it makes sense because his letters and emails tell me...

"That said, be good.  Be kind.  Be nice to your friends.  Go to movies sometimes that they want to see even though you’d rather go to another.  Go out to eat with them or one of them sometimes when you don’t want to.  Go shopping sometimes when you have too much to do to go shopping.  (Also be nice to your acquaintances.)  Try new things when you want.  Don’t when you don’t.  But don’t be a person you’re not or don’t want to be or persist in doing something you really don’t like."  

The specifics in these letters make me smile.


And oh, he celebrated us. 

                                                                                                            note.exact. same. hair.

It was his most important mission.


And I wanted to be just like him.

He had a stack of yellow legal pads on the top shelf in his closet.

 This was what he wrote EVERYTHING on.

The most exciting thing in the world was when he would go get me a new one to use MYSELF.

A fresh one. 
with a just-sharpened pencil.

I mean. I cared so much that I documented this event:

This was still framed on the desk in his office. 

I think it is amazing that I drew him in a black turtle neck and yellow striped shorts.

If you look closely, he is saying, "here" and I am saying, "thank you"

written in yellow. on yellow. go me.

He took everything I made to his office. 

In college, I built two huge rats. As in... the size of small dogs. 

So, he took them to work and would move them around his office to freak people out.


He was crazy. but.
My dad was so smart. (I think crazy and smart are closely related)

(He would tell me not to have so in that sentence above if I didn't finish the sentence with "that____"
But he would say it is alright if I am doing it for effect.
I think he would go crazy over my inappropriate use of periods. 

But then again, he'd say thats your thing. go with it.)

He thought I was clever. and made sure I heard him.


I still get to hear him. 
I have a bag of letters 
and a box of Milk Duds under my bed. 

Well, I ate them...It's just the wrapper.
 But he gave them to me
 and I couldn't bring myself to throw the box out.


And, I do love Milk Duds. 

But sometimes when I didn't love something, he thought I did.

and I would get it. wrapped up. 
and he would have a "tah daahhhhh" face on when I opened it. 

And I would almost have no idea why he gave it to me. 

Example- Cinnamon Raisin Bagel Crisps.



You bet I get them now whenever I can. 
I could have a good cry over some bagel crisps I tell you.

and meant it.


I can still feel him behind me.

and it is so beautiful. and so painful at the same time. 

Because whenever I needed him. He was there. Where I could actually hug him. and sit with him.

Always in a navy suit. I'm not kidding. I think I saw him in a pair of shorts about 10 times. and a T shirt maybe twice.

At every softball game. In the thick of the summer. 

In a navy suit.

On the WRONG side of the field.

I think this was to see what smack the other team was talking, to be mysterious, and to shake things up. and do the opposite of what you are supposed to do.


Shouting "go big blue!"  NO MATTER WHAT COLOR WE WERE.
His love for the Dodgers outshined reality. 
I am so serious.

My dad sat in the score box the years my brother played baseball. and I thought that meant he was
 Little League Royalty. 

I would get a Coke and a pack of Big League Chew and run up to the score box. and stare over his shoulder. And as long as I was quiet I could stay. 
I thought he was such a genius writing in scorekeeping code.

You think people like that are invincible.

They should be.


And when I was worried or scared about something in college, he would fly up the interstate
and bring a legal pad and a red pen.

and list out the pros and cons.

and we would brainstorm what to do.

and how.

He understood. No, he encouraged- great dreams.

So see, on days when I am stressed. or worried. It makes me really sad. 

That he isn't here to listen. across from me. with his coffee.

because. he was the best at listening. 

He would relish the time with JUST ME in the car. 
And would take the long way somewhere so we could talk longer.


He would take each of us to experience new things that would inspire us.

And would keep us up late on school nights to go to the theater because he knew that being sleepy the next day was worth the memory.

It was.

And. he was most proud when we would try new things.

Oh, I trust you.

But I miss you.

All the time.



At my Senior Art Show you were sick.
but you walked around like the proudest human being in the world.
I know that.

My parents took this sculpture home and put it in their FRONT yard after I graduated.

And my dad wore that tie like it was a prize. He bought it for himself. yes. in honor of the sculpture.

But he wrapped it. tagged it from ME. and opened it on Christmas morning in front of us. Every time he wore it he was so pleased with his hilarious move that he had one of those slight upturned smiles.

These things were normal in our home.

I'm telling you, once around Christmas we saw my dad in a commercial for a local shopping center dressed as Scrooge. and the commercial said to
visit Scrooge and Tiny Tim each day walking around their stores.
So naturally, we hightailed it down there. and


He never told us.
He thought it would be hilarious not to.

We were ALWAYS in a state of disbelief and awe at the stunts he pulled.


And, I realize now that most of those stunts were pushing us to be fearless. and to follow our passion.
He was giving us confidence. and he was actively believing in us.

After an art show, he bought out a quarter page in my college newspaper to place an ad.

The ad said only three letters.


And it was just for me. a grand but secret gesture to show how seriously he believed in me.

(Proud of you)

My sweet daddy was buried in that duck tie.

I don't remember who decided all of that.

It was a blur. But it was the perfect decision.

One of the biggest ironies in my life is that I was working at Disney World when my dad died.
He was headed down to see me really soon.

My brother called to tell me.
I was on a pitch black bus back to my apartment.

And when someone tells you something you cannot imagine, you almost don't feel it entirely.

But the very next thing my brother said was that he and my sister-in-law were flying to Orlando to pick me up on their way home.
and he said. Just sit tight. We will be there soon.
Who does that? Flies an extra stop out of their way home to be with you?

My family.


And when we ate pizza at the Orlando airport waiting for our flight, I had swollen eyes and a giant headache.

And my other brother called from home.

He said -

You guys gotta get here.

There is so.much.food.

And it's sort of fun. everyone is over here.


"You choose sweetheart, whether your glass is half empty or half full.  You choose.  You’ll get past this last-night’s feeling, Because you’re my sweetheart, I know you will. "


And. my life got a billion times richer. 

And my dad,

who begged me to sit on the porch when the stars were out.

and begged me to stop and talk to him when I wanted to jump all over the place.

and begged me to take things
one. at. a. time.

opened my eyes a little wider.

and made me a little stronger.


That is why we love on his memory.
his weird. his crazy. his kindness.

He taught me to see. everything. 

He taught me to be an artist.

                                                                                                                 this is his grand baby. 

And the baby that has his name is a joy to our family.

And a reminder that love goes on. and gets bigger.


And when I need him.
and the agony of his loss takes over.

I just look under my bed.

and in my heart.
where he said he would be.


"Think good things as often as you can.  I love you for talking to me. (Among many, many other reasons!)
                             -- Daddy"



Kelle said...

Crying. Read it so slowly. And I'm so inspired by who he was. And what he taught you. And consequently...me.
I love this post.
I love this post.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. I have no words.


Jiff said...

You brought a stream of tears to my eyes. Your writing and memories are so beautiful Abby. You're able to capture such emotion and beauty in them. I remember walking into your church, eyes flowing freely, and embracing you and Laura. Gosh, that feels like just yesterday. Love you dearly, Jiff

Skye said...

i loved reading this and seeing the pictures! all so beautiful. it tugs at my heart in a special way. my dad left this earthly life november 12th 2001 when i was just 21. while it hurts that tomorrow, october 8th(his birthday)he is not here to celebrate with us, i know he is here in our hearts just like your dad is with you. lots of love to you.

Laine Hosey said...

Beautiful. Gulping water while I read at work to keep the tears at bay. What an inspiring person to have as your very own parent. How lucky you are. I'm sure you know what a rare treasure that is. He definitely rubbed off on you. Heart wide open.

Rhonda said...

W.O.W I don't know you, I didn't know your dad, but this post brought me to tears. Your father was a great person and you are so lucky to have had him in your life and teach you so much!

Christy said...

Abernathy Bland,

I'm sending this to everyone I know so that everyone in Ukiah, California can know your dad. are you kidding me? this is too beautiful for any words, ever.

Love, Christy Barron

Abernathy said...

I remember being upset when my dad died thinking about how no one new would meet him. the good news is. thats not true. but oh. it hurts to miss someone so much. I love that pain is something we can share. and it throws us all on the same level. And, if you havent been thrown...well those who have will be down here when it happens. and we will look you in the eye and say- I get it. I know.

Rosie Smith said...

I have fond memories of your Dad. I love the part about the softball field. That is where we met the wonderful & crazy :) Bland twins and all their family. You are SO talented, Abby !!

DGells said...

Abby, I just read this and like everyone else, my heart cried. Not out of pity or sorrow, but from your dad's beauty and how successfully he passed it along to the rest of his family. I didn't really know your dad, but now I feel like I knew him well. Inspirational. Beautiful.

David G.

Debbie B. said...

What a beautiful man and sweet post. It was a pleasure to read and real to feel your joy, pain, and love.

Jessi and Nic said...

Buddy. I am sitting here crying...I love you so much and I am so inspired by you. You and your dad are much alike. Thank you for sharing these intimate memories...it was a blessing for me. Love you.

Robley Jones said...

Abby - your dad would be so proud. Those of us at VEA who knew him still sorely miss him. He lives in our memories, too. He could sure make one laugh! His good work still abounds!

Anonymous said...

I met your dad in 1990 in Chicago at a conference. I was always amazed at, not only how brilliant he was, but how giving and inclusive. He included everyone on "inside" jokes.

I went with he and Joey to see Naked Gun. I think we were in Miami or some other city. I loved how he laughed like a little kid. Unabashedly and with gusto.

That was your dad. Full of gusto. And Iʻm a better person for having known him.

Thank you for the reminder to enjoy life and, more importantly, to rejoice in being off kilter.

Angie M. said...

I am one of those anonymous coworkers from another state that you mentioned. I was at work--posting news on facebook--and saw your link on the page of yet another anonymous coworker. I knew your father only briefly, but he challenged me to give more than I thought I had to give to the educators out there. He told me that he was watching my work, and I always remembered that when I sat down to write. Thanks to you I got to be inspired all over again. Thank you.

Lana said...

Your Dad was so special to me (there I also go using "so!").

You and your sister were born about the same time as my daughter, and I loved watching you grow up together through stories told and photos shared at so many meetings and conferences over the years.

Thank you for showing his pencil scratchings on the yellow legal pad. Wow. Those shots brought back memories. I rarely saw him without a legal pad and a freshly sharpened pencil tucked behind his ear.

It's clear that you are special, too. Thanks for bringing dear Joe back, albeit briefly, for me and his many friends who miss him always.

LC said...

It is such a pleasure to know you. And your dad.

Deborah Fallin said...

Dear Abby,
Thank you for sharing your feelings about your dad. He was an amazing man and I feel so lucky to have known him. You are certainly his daughter ~ so creative and articulate. I enjoyed seeing your art and blog posts.

I know he is very proud of you and your siblings. Whenever we were together he always talked of all of you, sharing pictures and accomplishments. His love for you was enormous. Love to all of you and your mom.
Deborah Fallin, ColoradoEA

Abernathy said...

Thank you for all of the kind and honest words. I appreciate everything that has been said.

I am very glad you can hear my dad in any part of my work :) and it is exciting to hear from people who knew him. and loved him. and even those who never met him. thanks for sharing.

(...inclusive is right. I think that is an amazing quality. I hope I can be like him in that way. everyone felt extremely important to him. because they were. )

Sophie said...

I just read this and I am crying now. Thank you for sharing you love for your Dad, it is such a beautiful thing to witness. xoxox

Mel said...

Abby - it is so lovely getting to know you and your dad through your beautiful words, funny phots and creative drawings. He was clearly a man full of love, laughter and life and I see those same qualities in you. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart with us and telling us about your wonderful father. I feel inspired.

Brenda said...

This was beautiful and so inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

Loria said...

Losing your dad is a life-changing event that can have either bad or good results to a person. The pictures you posted made us understand more about your father, and we can closely relate to you. We hope you're alright now.

[Loria Schleiff]

Rachel H said...

Anyone who has ever lost anyone wishes they could put those that are gone in to words as truly as you have done for your dad. I know because I am one of those people. The love, the authenticity, the real-ness in this post is inspiring, comforting and comforting. Blessings to you, Abby.

Julie said...

Oh man I cried! Your dad is awesome and your memories are sweet. Love this.

Marko said...

I read this last year and today I read it again. And then I read all the comments. FYI.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. Brings back sweet happy memories of my husband & the great daddy he was to our daughters :-)

Monique said...

I just found your blog through etst and am so happy to have found this incredible place of yours. I just read this beautiful post of your amazing daddy!! I was captivated by your simple but deep and meaningful words. I recently lost my Mama and she was a crazy one too. She was full of life and lived for us 3 kids and her 6 grandkiddos. Was an artist, a dreamer, a lover of life no matter what it threw at her. She is fiercely missed and we feel her love so often. The duck tie and the newspaper article POY (oh that brought me to tears-his creative unique ways to show his love) are the best signs of how much your daddy loved you...loves you! Thank you for sharing your story.

Jessica said...

What an amazingly beautiful post! Thank you.

Kit said...

I just found your blog today and read this post. Made me cry as I thought about my own dad. And made me want to be a great mom to my kids! What an amazing man. Thank you for helping us to see him and you.

Abernathy said...

oh, thank you. thank you. this is my most favorite post :) thank you.

CMcB said...

Lovely and sweet. Your dad was a great guy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Abby -- from another of your dad's colleagues in another state (Minnesota). Getting to work with Joe Bland was an honor and a real "hoot" -- that brain never stopped! I remember when your mom brought you and your sister in your twin stroller to visit all of us at the State Education Editors meeting in Alexandria. Thanks SO much for this wonderful tribute...brings back happy memories.

Unknown said...

Abby, I was your daddy's friend for the 20+ years I worked for the Louisiana NEA affiliate and for years after. Once, he came to help me convince the leadership to budget money to basically "steal" two of his fabulous, out of the box ideas. Mannermals (mannerly animals) and the Superman campaigns. I still have all the materials I adapted for use in our state, tho, next year I have been retired for 20 years (and I had changed to a different position ten years before that). I have so many stories about him. He always put you and your siblings first. You are so right about how all of us knew everything about you, tho you never met many of us. Joe Bland was the smartest, most talented and creative man I ever had the privilege to work with. That is saying a LOT since I have been a writer and artist most of my life and know many fabulous and creative people. Also, you should know I never say anything nice unless I am being completely honest. If I dont mean it, I say nothing at all. I am crying buckets right now. Your daddy was one of a kind and I just wanted you to know as long as I live, I will remember him. BTW I love, love, love this post. He is surely proudly watching over you. ♡

Unknown said...

I'm one of those people from another state who worked with your dad. I got an award for a piece of work at one of our conferences. When your dad complimented me, I said, "Joe, don't you know I stole the idea from you?" Without skipping a beat he said, "I must have stolen it from you first."
Not true! That was his way of building up and supporting a colleague. He was one of the most creative people on the planet. He was our guru, the person we called when we wanted to take our idea to the next level.
Thank you for reminding me and giving me a chance to relive some great memories.

i love music. almost more than everything.