What Does Dead Dad Think Now?

What Does Dead Dad Think Now?

Fred Wertz, my dad, picked up every penny he saw during his daily walks. At a nimble eighty-six he’d swoop down mid-sentence and scoop up a penny, barely breaking the cadence of his step. If he walked without me my father would call to chat and report his found treasure totals. On days when he found two or more pennies he always said, “Annie, I found two. That’s when you know you’re living right.”

The practice was charming, and thrifty to the very end, just like my dad.

I’ve written about some of the tough times growing up with my sometimes dismissive, always opinionated father who, when he was wrong, was wrong with conviction and unrepentance. I’ve written about the grief of him dying suddenly and in my arms, after having spent the last 20 years of his life caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s.

But haven’t written about how I think my dad’s opinions have changed since he died.[Tweet “This is a story of how I think my dad’s opinions have changed since he died.”]

My Dad was born in 1932 and was a solid representative of the Silent Generation. He believed in safe decisions, productivity, frugality, and loyalty. Maybe it was part of his generation or maybe just his personality, but he also thought he was right about everything, and if you didn’t think so you were dumb.

My father majored in business, received an MBA and was a businessman until he retired to care for my mom. One career, forty years. I went from nurse to grad school to more grad school to professor of health, to novelist, to business owner, to writing professor, and all the while my dad watched and shook his head. His favorite words to me? “Settle down.”

I drove my dad to distraction with my pivots.

When I suggested that I might leave my tenured professor position after twenty years to write full time he shook his head disapprovingly and said, “Never leave a cash cow. Never. No. Don’t. Are you nuts? Case closed. I picked up five pennies this week.”

Not long after this conversation, my father had a heart attack due to complications from a minor procedure, and after four nights in the hospital, all signs indicating he was recovering, he died in my arms. He left behind my sick mom, five grandkids, a drawer full of blueprints for a house he never built, half-done photography, and travel brochures for trips he didn’t take. He put his nose to the grindstone of work and then to caring for my mom. Then he died.

Four months later I quit my university job. Six months later my mom died, also in my arms. After that I did everything you’re not supposed to do following a significant loss and life change:  I ended relationships, sold my home, bought a house, quit a business, threw everything away, put two books I’d been working on in a drawer, and started a new one.

There are many days I feel guilty about leaving my job; spending my weeks making up stories, traveling so I can write in the sun. I hear my dad all the time: “Annie, never leave a cash cow.” I wonder if this would still be his advice.

I keep thinking that death is an eye-opener. Surely Dead-Dad would give different advice now that he knows what’s what. He’s been in the hereafter, has pushed those hindsight-is-twenty-twenty glasses up the bridge of his nose, and looked around. How would he feel about my cashing in the cow approach to life now? Would he consider it wise or I worried, wasteful?

I was considering this very thing on my walk recently when I came across a penny on the street. I picked it up and of course, thought of my dad. I wondered if he would disapprove of my rented Airbnb in California while I was paying the mortgage on a perfectly good home in Wisconsin. My mood dumped, imagining his disapproval, and guilt slithered through my thoughts. I should have saved the money like my dad would have advised, stayed home, hedged my bets, acknowledged the scarcity of life’s resources.

Then my dog Peanut barked, startling me out of the oft-visited whirlpool I’ve named the am-I-living-right quagmire. He tugged at his leash and when I looked down I saw that my shoelace was untied and there, right next to my toe, was another penny, the second one of the day materializing amid my misery. That’s when I knew Dead-Dad had changed his mind about things.

As if calling me on the universe’s cell phone to talk about found riches, I heard his voice, as clear and sure as it ever was, “Two pennies, Annie. That’s when you know you’re living right.”

xo Ann

PS: My dad says hi.

Big thank you to Samantha Hoffman for editing this piece. She edits all my essays. Click for her services.


  1. Barbara Zeynep Turkdal on April 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Once again, you have offered me a repreive from my own messy life, a story with thoughts to which I clearly identify , and leaving me with a smile on my face.

    Thank you Ann!
    Carry on!

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:30 pm

      I will carry on if you do!! All of our messy lives together!
      Ann xo

    • Anita Fonte on April 27, 2022 at 3:58 pm

      Terrific piece of writing. I will look for pennies to pick up and remember your dad’s two penny adage.

      • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 6:20 pm

        Thank you Anita. It’s the little tiny things we find, that carry so much weight.

  2. Karen Shoemaker on April 27, 2022 at 11:03 am

    Oh Ann, this is such a lovely essay. It’s all the things I love about your writing in that it walks so nimbly the tightrope between humor and deep pain. Thank you.

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:30 pm

      What a wonderful endorsement of exactly what I’m trying to do. I so appreciate you being here with me.
      xo A

  3. Kim on April 27, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    Love this!

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks Kim!! xoA

  4. Suzi Sharp on April 27, 2022 at 12:46 pm

    Wonderful, touching story. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:29 pm

      You are so very welcome. Thank you for reading, Suzi. xoA

  5. Katie on April 27, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    Love this piece, Ann. I like to think many of our dead relatives have changed their minds.

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:28 pm

      Right? I think maybe it’s still part of the life death journey.

  6. Susan Gromis on April 27, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    Oh, Ann, this really hit home for me and I teared up as I was reading. I have had similar thoughts about parents’ approval, and once they are gone we are left to wonder.

    You ARE living your best life!

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:28 pm

      Susan, Thank you so much. You are the biggest supporter of me and my writing. I hope you know how much fuel it gives me. I’m glad you feel something when you read along with my life.

  7. Anneke Van Couvering on April 27, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    I loved the experience of reading this piece, in addition to loving the writing itself. It felt like a soft, warm embrace, in which your words pulled me gently inside your life with your Dad. Thank you.

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:27 pm

      Oh my, what a lovely reaction to this. Thank you. So glad you are here.

  8. Dana Moore on April 27, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    This is beautiful! Since Jim died, I have collected pennies, the occasional nickel, dime and quarter along with small treasures that cross my path that remind me of him…I have a box with “Wild Thing” etched across the top and place my memories of Jim in there. Keep writing Ann…I love your stories! DM

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:26 pm

      Wild Thing. I love this. What a wonderful memorial to him.
      Thank you!

  9. Heidi J Dunfee on April 27, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    OH MY! Shivers all over. I hear ya on this topic for sure. I often wonder and hope that my parents (who have both passed) look down and believe “I am living right”. Generations change and so do perspectives and opinions. Love you!

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:25 pm

      Love you too, Heidi. They and we are part of the grind generation. But what happens when we decide that we’ve done enough?
      xo A

  10. Laurie Buchanan on April 27, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    I always look forward to your newsletters. Stories like this are precisely why.

    • Ann Garvin on April 27, 2022 at 2:23 pm

      Thank you Laurie 🙂 So glad you’re here.

  11. Dauna on April 27, 2022 at 2:46 pm

    I LOVE this piece…almost as much as I love your writing style. Having lost both my dad and my mom in the past three years, I spend considerable time thinking about the messages they send me from the great beyond. Did I mention I lost my daughter and my husband before my parents in my upside down life? Just three days ago my mom managed to have the Cincinnati Reds win a game. She managed this feat because my grandkids took me to ballpark that day to find a memorial stone with her name on it outside the Cincinnati Hall of Fame. This was no small accomplishment as that was only the third game the Reds have won this year. Yay for mom! I’ll bet your dad found three pennies on Sunday.

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 6:22 pm

      Dauna, you have had a tough bunch of years. Your upside down life. A great name for a life. I love how the Cincinnati Reds have benefited. hahaha Thanks so much for this joy-filled note. Ann

  12. Debbie Chavez on April 27, 2022 at 6:03 pm

    Love this. Your essay reminded me so much of my dad. Like yours, he had a stick-to-it-iveness that was a sight to behold. Once a decision was made, there was nothing that could veer him off course. I was the last child of five, and to hear him tell it, the favorite and the prettiest. Truth be told, each of us heard the same thing from dad. I hear his voice often in my head, and wish I could hear it again.

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 6:20 pm

      Oh this is a lovely memory. Thank you for sharing it. xoox A

  13. Kate, aka Evelyn on April 27, 2022 at 6:21 pm

    Oh Ann, let’s do a seance complete with candles and spooky sounds! I truly believe our loved ones continue to whisper, shout, and give us pennies all the time. So glad you’re dad found a way to send you his blessing. Wow.

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 6:19 pm

      LEts do it. Kata, aka Evelyn. I think we should. Pennies from Heaven.

  14. Denise on April 27, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    My dad is the blue collar version of your dad. Unlike your dad, I don’t think my dad will ever get it.

    I still pick up pennies, dimes, $10 bills. Some habits are hard to break and others are not.

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 6:18 pm

      I hear you Denise. I understand. Same generation of fathers I think.
      Curly hair’d daughters with empathy though. xoxo A

  15. Gretchen on April 27, 2022 at 10:09 pm

    Ann, Your Dad and my dad were in certain agreement about not quitting that cash cow. At least you lasted the 20 years. I was 4 months short when I quit the university and Bud was mad as hell. However, if I had tried to stay on 4 months more, I would have died. So, I’m not dead, and neither are you dear cousin. And, by all accounts, you are “living right”.

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 6:17 pm

      Oh I bet he was Gretchen. They were the same — their generation was all about these things. And, I admire them for those things…they were not for us though. xox Ann

  16. Nancy on April 27, 2022 at 11:15 pm

    Love this essay!

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 4:45 pm

      Thank you so much Nancy. You saying so really keeps me writing 🙂

  17. Tamara A. Scerpella on April 28, 2022 at 2:22 am

    Having known your dad, I am CERTAIN he has changed his mind. He did what HE had to do, but you are doing what YOU have to do. He is proud of you for that and glad you are doing what you love. I think he’ll keep throwing down the pennies to be sure you know!

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 4:45 pm

      You are my biggest fan and supporter. Love you,

  18. Pam Burgess Morfitt on April 28, 2022 at 4:23 am

    Brilliant piece Ann, I too cannot ever pass up a penny

    • Ann Garvin on April 28, 2022 at 4:44 pm

      Thank you Pam–we midwest ladies are frugal and hardworking. oxox

  19. Teresa Maloney on April 28, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    Oh, my goodness, thank you for this!
    We miss some things about our dad. If something upset us. we would let him know and, boy, would he fume about it for us! It freed us to move on with our lives. This is one of the things we miss most so, now I phone my sister, who lives two doors down one the same street and she replies, ‘Like dad used to say, people are no goddamn good!’ Lol!
    You reminded me of the day one of my father’s co-workers stopped by to pay a debt. Dad died unexpectedly at 64 so, when this man asked my mother, who spoke limited English, if my dad was home, my mother explained that he had died. The man said, ‘No, that’s not possible!’ Mom’s response was, ‘Yes, he’s dead, dead, dead!’ I can’t help but to laugh 29 years later.

    • Ann Garvin on April 29, 2022 at 7:04 pm

      Oh my gosh your dad sounded like a lovely. Your mom was probably saying that for herself too. But I would have laughed as well!!
      xo A

  20. Jane on April 28, 2022 at 11:15 pm

    You are a brave soul. Loved this and your Dad does, too.

    • Ann Garvin on April 29, 2022 at 7:03 pm

      Awww thanks Jane. xo

  21. Sandra Carey Cody on April 28, 2022 at 11:59 pm

    Your penny story took me back. My favorite aunt used to say, “If you see a penny and it’s looking at you, pick it up; if it’s looking away, let it lay. If you see a nickel, pick it up!”

    • Ann Garvin on April 29, 2022 at 7:03 pm

      Oh that’s a new one!! So interesting I wonder where it all came from. I rarely let a coin alone, if I’m honest.
      I’m frugal too. thanks Sandra!

  22. Dana McNeely on April 29, 2022 at 3:49 am

    Love this. 🙂 My father-in-law was a penny-picker-upper and my Grandpa taught me the Scots’ penny song:
    Always look after your pennies
    Pennies they turn into gold
    Always look after your pennies, my frieeeenddd…
    And they’ll look after you when you’re olddddddd.

    I’ve never been in an Air B-n-B yet, but thinking about it.

    • Ann Garvin on April 29, 2022 at 7:02 pm

      Oh I think it must have been a generational thing. I pick up pennies too–I wasn’t as showy about it. lol
      Thanks Dana,

  23. Deanna Gast on April 29, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing dad with us, Ann!

    • Ann Garvin on April 29, 2022 at 7:00 pm

      You knew him!! He was a character. xoA

  24. John Valesano on April 29, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    Love this, Ann. Surely our fathers were brothers!

    • Ann Garvin on June 22, 2022 at 5:18 am

      Surely they were. That generation–they were all linked!!

  25. Cheryl Tessier on May 1, 2022 at 1:36 am

    My dear, you are living right. No doubt about it.

  26. Sherrey Meyer on May 2, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    How is it you always seem to know what I need to “hear?” Since 2019 and major surgery, I’ve made decisions I know my dead dad has likely rolled his beautiful brown eyes at and my husband (also beautiful brown eyes) disagreed with. You see since that surgery and an overdose of anesthesia I seem to have lost part of myself. The writer in me is for all intents and purposes gone. I can sit for hours pondering my next blog post and never experience a trickle of creative juices. In fact, usually, I have no desire to write. So many things I once enjoyed have left my creative file cabinet. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction this morning. I think I know what I need to do now.

    • Ann Garvin on May 31, 2022 at 6:03 pm

      Sherrey!! My gosh, I want to hear how you are doing. This is stunning and I’m so sorry to hear this. Are you writing. Keep me posted. You are in my thoughts. !!

  27. Brenda Ploegstra on June 21, 2022 at 4:28 pm

    I love how you look at things. You seem to always find a silver lining to the clouds in life. I would like to have your talent for lifting other peoples spirits.
    I think our dads would have gotten along well- “see a penny pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck”. I still recite that to myself when I pick up pennies that other people drop.

    • Ann Garvin on June 22, 2022 at 5:06 am

      You do have that talent. You lifted mine with your note. Thank you for being here. I’m so glad you are.

  28. Caitlin on November 22, 2022 at 1:34 am

    AS USUAL, you hit a chord with this one, Ann.

    • Ann Garvin on November 22, 2022 at 2:51 pm

      hahah. Good. We deserve to stick togehter.

    • Ann Garvin on February 8, 2023 at 10:29 pm

      I’m glad I did 🙂

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