It’s been 31 years since Dad and I shared an earthly conversation. Oh sure, I talk with him every day, but those talks seem to be one-sided mostly. Each official Father’s Day in June, I’ve been blessed with hugs and honors from my own two kids, whom I adore. For those blessings I thank God. Daily. But, during the quiet morning hour of that holiday, or the last hour or two at the end of that day, my thoughts drift heavily with my father in the light. During those reserved moments, my mental file cabinets open and the memories come flooding out, all physical senses included: the smell of his clothes when I hugged him, the sound of his words of wisdom and discipline, the sight of him laughing at one of his jokes, and the feel of his calloused hands squeezing my shoulder as he returned a hug of his own.
As many of us who have experienced a wonderful father figure, when that person leaves this world, the weight of sorrow is tremendous. On Dad’s last day, I stood by his bedside as my wife, Linda and I visited him in the local hospital. Several days earlier his heart failed and the cardiac event forced him to medical care. Seeing the man that led me through life to my 23rd year, laying in the hospital bed with an expression of melancholy over his face and movements, I sensed something. As we chatted about the next day’s plan for his release from the hospital and of upcoming adventures we would share, he frowned and stopped our talk. He laid his head back against his pillow and I darted out of the room to alert a nurse. Twenty minutes later, my father, my best friend, my teacher, my guardian, was gone. His heart failed again. His lifeblood had completed its course and purpose and was now still. My heart was pounding strongly, but felt as if it was shattering.
Over the next few days, several months, and several years, I experienced life’s trials without my back up plan, Dad, to call on when I was stopped with a challenge. My “Google” was not there anymore. I found answers to my questions and cleared hurdles on my own. As I navigated through manhood, raising and supporting a family, Dad’s wisdom and guidance returned in a new form. A little more so each year. Now, 31 years since Dad spoke his last words to me, “I love you, boy. Take care of your mother”, an old snapshot of Dad and I, filleting a few crappie, sits on my desk. I often find myself staring at that photo when pondering the next sentence of an article I’m writing or when contemplating a life decision needing serious attention. I hear him. Not in an earthly way, but nonetheless an internal sense full of guidance. I look at his eyes in the photo, and his mouth. Sometimes, it seems as if they move. During the first few years of his absence, photos of him would bring tears and an inner ache that was only shaken by changing my attention to something else. Now, I smile – inside and out. Maybe it’s a spiritual maturing that has given me the strength to “hear”, or my life’s lessons gathered along the way has allowed me to tune in to what matters. I believe it’s both.
I’m posting this edition of my blog on the morning of Father’s Day, 2019. Later today, I will spend time with my grown son and daughter – my favorite thing to do. We’ll talk about current life, upcoming adventures, and share some time fishing if the weather is decent. Maybe even try out a new fishing rod, which I’ve been hinting to both of them that I needed. Whatever we do today will be cherished by us all. The responsibilities of a father are never ending. In this life or the next stage. Being aware of an offspring’s needs or wishes is one of a father’s greatest gifts or senses. When the kids are present, my sense of their wellbeing is on high alert. I believe that is a God given talent. I also believe that talent is carried beyond this earthly trip, because, as I age, the awareness grows that Dad is still close. Watching. Guiding. Loving.
I can’t help but smile.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you, too.