December 7th, a day which will live in infamy.
My father would have been 75 today, had he not passed away 15 years ago when I was just 18 years old. Back then I was still the child who looked exactly like him, the child who acted exactly like him (though I know my teenage ways still often perplexed him), the child who adored him above all else. Back then I was surrounded by people who knew and admired my father, and I think he felt like a solid, dependable constant in all our lives.
Well. Change is the only actually dependable thing in the world, right? So here I am, 15 years later and surrounded by people who never met my father, who only know him through my stories, my pictures, my writing. Who know his expressions but don’t realize it because they see them on my face instead. Which is hard (oh fuck, is it hard) but not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about how, even though I’m getting close to having been alive longer without my dad at my side than with, I am still the person he shaped. I want to talk about how I had no idea who I wanted to be when I grew up and yet, somehow, I ended up exactly where I needed to be, exactly where I would have been even if I’d had his guidance the whole way. And that’s a testament to the mark he left, not his absence.
My dad wasn’t an emergency manager (I think he saw enough action for a lifetime in Vietnam), but he would have made a damn good one. He was smart, thoughtful, and he kept his cool in stressful situations when he had to depend on himself or assist others. He was a helper, the kind who might not take center stage but would always be there with tools in hand to help tow you out of a ditch, cut a tree off your roof, or fix your sink. He was one of those strong, silent types who hid a world of wit and joy inside them for those who earned their friendship, and he knew the power and importance of community.
Though he probably never realized where it might lead, he instilled those values in his weird, antisocial, feral little daughter. Sure, I never picked up the interest in fixing cars or building things, and I have literally no upper body strength, but I like to think I have a lot of the rest. I try, at least. And these things he instilled in me, this love of the land and people who raised me, this fascination with the natural world and its history, this drive to HELP, it all led me… here. To geoscience. To tsunamis. To emergency management.
I pushed myself hard this year. To be a better friend, a better leader, a better citizen of this earth we all share, and I know my dad is proud. I know I’m doing right by his memory, even if my life path doesn’t look exactly like his did. Neither of us could have imagined this future for me as we sat in the cab of his truck, speakers blasting the Irish Rovers, or as we pricked our fingers bloody gathering ripe blackberries. He was preparing me for it anyway, though, one little lesson at a time. And I was soaking them up.
His final lesson to me is one I want to impart to you all today. As a Marine Corps radioman in far Vietnam, trying to keep his dinner dry while running through a downpour from the mess hall back to the radio for his night shift, young Steve Tappero realized something. He realized nothing else much matters in life if you can keep your sandwich dry. You can’t control the rain, after all, or the dark, or the people shooting at you or the ones pulling the strings above it all. All you can control is whether you keep your sandwich dry, and at the end of the day that’s enough. Focus on that and you’ll be okay. You’ll get through it. Tomorrow will come.
So, from the daughter of an emergency manager who wasn’t, I leave you with my two hopes for you all: may you keep your sandwich dry, and may you live without regrets.