Years ago, my dad came to my brother and me and asked us to help him decide what license plate to get for his car. We glanced over the list he had brainstormed and agreed that “DAPSNU,” which stood for “Dale Alexander Passing You,” would be the way to go. Here’s why: Dad had a fascination with old police cars, and he frequently would speed down the road, passing people (sometimes on the shoulder of the road, which is one of his more tame stories) like a mad man. How he didn’t end up in jail more than twice—again, more stories—is beyond me.
Time went by, and people questioned why his car read “DAPSNU.” His frequent need to explain it drove him absolutely crazy, and guess who got the blame? The thing is, he continued getting the same license plate. DAPSNU cloned itself into DAPSNUs 2-7, then somehow morphed its way into DAPNU for his truck. And we all laughed because it made even less sense then, but it didn’t matter. A legend was born with my friends, and it’s something my family still laughs about to this day.
It’s hard to believe, but next week, my dad will have passed away 5 years ago. It’s been heartbreaking and life altering in ways I never could have imagined, and in ways I would never wish upon my worst enemy. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t at least wonder what he’d think about some of the things I’m doing.
Dad was also passionate about the railroad. Not only did he work for Illinois Central Railroad—or Illinois Central Gulf and Canadian National, as it’s also been known—for 42 years, but he was also one of those model train enthusiasts. Some of my favorite memories were sitting on his lap while he worked on his engines. Being the technologically savvy child in the family, I was left with the responsibility of selling his prized trains on eBay after he passed. As hard as it’s been, I’ve learned a lot and like to believe my dad would be proud of my useless railroad knowledge.
This year I decided to get a tattoo of a train in honor of Dad. It still needs some retouching so that it bears the Illinois Central logo on the grill, but right at the top, where a train’s road number—a social security number of sorts for every car and engine you see on a track—should be, it says “DAPSNU.” It’s something that takes a lot of explaining to anyone who isn’t in my family, yet it also makes me laugh and is so meaningful to me all at the same time.
David Strong, who takes tons of photos of the Springfield Roller Girls, offered to shoot my tattoo shortly after I got it. With that 5 year mark coming up, I decided it was time. I loved what he did and believe it’s a beautiful memory of my father.
Thank you, Dad, for giving me your sense of adventure, your big heart, your curly hair, and for showing me what it means to live.