A Song for My Father

Psychologist B. J. Fogg has a habit of saying “Today’s going to be a great day” as soon as he gets up in the morning. I do that, too, and here’s why.

My dad, Don Toft, is a guiding light to me.

He laughed a lot. He played music. He sang. He painted pictures. He wrote poems.

He loved me very much. I know that because he told me.

My dad was a commercial artist who worked from home during the 1960s — long before anyone considered that normal.

I remember his office in the basement of our house on Seneca Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa. It was filled with paper and paints, triangles and T-squares. It was all so exotic.

I remember standing in that office one night when I was 10 or 11 and staring at every object, trying to figure out what each one was for.

When I was 14, my dad bought me my first electric guitar — a solid body, 3/4-size Fender Duo-Sonic. It was painted cherry red and had a neck of polished wood that felt like velvet. Next to a sunset, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

I will never forget that guitar. It was a Christmas present. At midnight on Christmas Eve that year, I snuck out of bed to peek under the tree. I saw the long, flat case wrapped up in bright green paper with a red ribbon on top. I knew exactly what was inside.

The next morning, when we opened presents, I pretended to be surprised.

During the years after that Christmas, my dad got sick from time to time.

Real sick, actually.

When I was in 8th grade, he was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis. None of the adults told us was what was really going on. I found out years later that he almost died then.

Fortunately dad had more years of good health while I finished high school and college.

Then, in 1974, he started developing symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It was the beginning of a long, slow decline. I pray that you and all the people you love never ever have to go through something like that.

During the 1970s I went to college. I studied philosophy and religion and wondered how I could use my studies to help my dad.

Meanwhile, he was slowly losing the ability to walk and talk.

Finally, I sat in my room one night and wrote a letter to him. It was a short letter. I told him that I loved him and didn’t want him to die.

That was all, basically: The fruit of my tuition payments. The sum of my knowledge.

It was the truest thing I ever said to anybody.

I am glad I wrote that letter. Mom said that that dad kept it in his desk drawer and pulled it out to read over and over again.

Watching my dad die taught me not to put off saying the important things that are hard to say to the people who the matter most. You never know when they will be taken away from you. Forever.

My dad died on Mother’s Day, 1982. He was 53 years old.

Even after all this time, I can hardly believe that he’s gone. When I think about it, I still get stabbing sensations in my stomach.

There is still a part of me that thinks dad will call me on the phone or knock on my door.

There is a small child in each of us who never gives up hope.

When my dad died, I promised myself that I would think of him every day. I have never broken that promise.

Every morning, when I get out of bed, I check to see if I can still walk and talk. Then I remember my dad. And then I know that no matter what happens, today will be a great day.