A Son's Love for his Father
My father would have turned seventy this year. He passed away when he was only fifty six. His untimely death seemed so unjust, the type of injustice that is deeply felt but never fully understood. All these years later, on the anniversary of his death, I wanted to share a few thoughts.
Losing someone isn't easy. Learning how to deal with it is even harder. Grief never leaves you. You may overcome it for a moment or learn how to incorporate it into your life, but it never truly leaves.
Sometimes grief appears in silence. It builds up through the day, or month or year. Other times it shows itself in sudden and unexpected outbursts of joy or sadness. Maybe a song comes on the radio or a memory comes rushing in. There's no sidestepping these moments.
We all have our own expressions of grief and we invent corresponding mechanisms to cope. We struggled then, in the moment of his death and in the immediate aftermath. We struggle today, but in very different ways. We've learned to articulate our emotions.
But, we've never forgotten.
I have a heartfelt appreciation for the time my father and I spent together and all the gifts I continue to realize he afforded.
I simply cannot imagine my father as an older man. He was so full of life - a seemingly inextinguishable vitality.
If he were alive today, would he need help walking or remembering? Would he still be working? Would he take more time to fish and do the things that he loved? Actually, I wonder if he'd still be alive. Or, if something else would have taken him instead.
I'm reminded of Rimbaud, and his venerable lines,
"A thousand Dreams within me softly burn:
From time to time my heart is like some oak
Whose blood runs golden where a branch is torn."
Growing up in Oak Grove, Alabama my father earned the nickname "oak", presumably for his steady resolve and because he never forgot his roots. He always knew where he came from and he always knew where he was going. We just didn't think it would be to his grave. Not then. Maybe not ever.
The flame of my father's life runs through our veins.
I see him in my sister. In her gestures and actions, in her indefatigable sense of purpose. It's as clear as day.
My wife tells me she sees my father in my wrinkles and in my smile and the way I fold my arm across the table as I eat. When old photos surface of my father as a younger man, my wife is captivated by the resemblance.
I imagine my father's life before me. I remember the life that we shared.
I also see him in my dreams, vivid, intoxicating dreams. The type of dreams where memories intermix with times unknown. Betwixt, you awake, alarmed and unsteady. You smile and look around the room. Is he still alive or was that just a dream?
A branch was torn from our life the day he passed away, but our dreams still burn, cascading golden rays of hope and promise. I'd like to think he saw these dreams kindle. Actually, I know he did. He was the one who ignited so many of them.
My memories of him are as alive today as they ever were. It's not so much that the grief has subsided.` We've learned how to accept it and found ways to express ourselves in healthy and productive ways. We've taken stock of its importance.
Sometimes we are overwhelmed. Sometimes we are at peace. We're conflicted in our emotions. We take comfort in affirming fate and acknowledging the splendors of life. Yet, taking a step back, we also recognize the pain.
I often wonder what I'd say to him now, after all of these years. More than anything, I think I'd just like to sit in the same room and feel his presence once again.
The bond between a father and son is often unspoken. The way we showed our affection was through a handshake, or a reassuring smile, always with a profound sense of mutual respect.
My favorite memories are actually rather simple: playing catch when he returned home from work, hoping to get one more throw in before the sun set or mom called us to dinner; or, riding quietly in the car as we headed out on a fishing trip, watching the sun chase us in the rear view mirror as we sped across a hazy morning sky, inching ever closer to our destination.
It struck me only the other day. My father came from nothing. He gave us everything. I know he'd be proud of our family. The strength we have mustered despite the pain we've endured. He'd be particularly proud of my mother and the way she has united the family in her thoughtful embrace.
My father never would have wanted any of us to suffer, to feel his loss. He'd simply wish that we went on, with our heads up and the wind at our back, reassured that everything was going to be okay.
Everything is okay, dad. But, we miss you just the same.