To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to learn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a little bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
A few years ago during my divorce, my dad cut out the above quote and sent it to me in the mail. I posted it on the wall in my office and read in times of self-doubt.
It's been difficult the past few months not being able to call him and hear his voice on the other end of the phone. He listened to me and gave me advice whether I asked for it or not. Most of the time I blew off his advice thinking my truck driver/ backhoe operator dad didn't really know how to help me in my particular situation.
Now with the clarity of time, I realize how much I relied on his strength and support. It is unfortunate that I had to lose him in order to see how much I needed him. I now miss his simple wisdom and his constant encouragement he gave through my childhood, college career, and real life. He was my biggest cheerleader and my most loyal fan. He shouted out my successes to all who would listen.
But did my dad, himself, succeed? He didn’t go to college or have a corner office at a big corporation. He didn’t make six figures or drive a BMW. He had something more. Something better. He had his love for all of us and the deep affection of his two children and three grandchildren. My dad loved fiercely and unconditionally. Having that love means more than any college degree or six figure salary. And he showed his love to us by his steady presence throughout our childhood.
My earliest memories of my dad take place outdoors. At about four years old, my dad took me fishing. We went behind my grandmother and granddad’s house in Nebo, NC, and dug for worms beside the dog pen my granddad kept for his beagles. Then my dad and I walked through a big field with briers bigger than me to get to Dad’s fishing hole. Dad showed me how to put worms on a hook and how to cast the fishing line into the water. I’m not sure we caught any fish that day which is fairly typical of Dad’s fishing, but I remember how to dig up worms.
At about five years old, my dad and I took a walk in the woods behind my other grandparents’ house in Amelia, Va. He pointed out different plants and trees he knew. Acorns littered the ground. He picked up an acorn and told me that the Native Americans ate acorns as part of their diet. He took out his pocket knife, (my dad always had a pocket knife and a handkerchief in his pocket) and cut the acorn in half. He ate one half and gave the other half to me.
I carry on my Dad's love of the outdoors with my own son, and in that way my Dad's love lives on.
As my brother and I grew up, my Dad's constant love continued. There was nothing my dad wouldn’t do for either one of us.
When I was 18, I was rushed into emergency surgery in Atlanta. Within a couple of hours my dad and mom drove to Atlanta to be by my side. They took turns staying with me at the hospital so that one of them was always by my side.
At 25, I was in a bad car wreck on my way to the Ocean Isle Beach. My dad and mom hopped in the car and drove the 5 hours to meet me at the hospital. Dad had tears in his eyes when he spied me sitting in a wheelchair waiting for them.
Just last February, I needed to have surgery on my cervical spine and would be out of work for a few weeks. My dad was insistent that he was going to stay with me and take care of me. I didn't know of which I was more scared- having surgery on my spine or my dad being in control of my house while I was immobilized in bed.
Much to my surprise, we got along fairly well. He was very gentle and compassionate with me, and I was patient and kind to him. He left the TV off, and begin reading books from my collection. During that two week period my dad read about ten books, probably more books than he had read during his first 73 years of life. We talked, hung out and just enjoyed one another’s company. I am extremely grateful I was able to share that time with him before he past away.
The past couple of years, I called my dad quite often. When I had a bad day at work, I knew I could call my dad and he would pick up the phone no matter where he was or who he was with. I relied on hearing his voice answering the phone.
I spent a lot of time with Dad the last two weeks of his life, and for this I feel very fortunate. We watched movies and listened to music. We joked around and talked.
Dad knew he was dying. It was especially important for him to tell everyone he loved them as he said goodbye to his family and friends who visited. He said he was ready to go and to not worry about him. He said he would always be with me, and I would always be with him. He said my brother and I were the most important things in this world for him.
His very last words to me were, "Be extra special careful as you drive home. It will do no good, if something happens to you. I love you."
I often wish I had not driven home that evening. I wish I had stayed that last night with him. I wish that instead of giving him a kiss and walking away, I had crawled up in bed and held him at least for a little while. I just wish I had had more time. But that's never the case and not the way things shook out. I needed to get home and get Ev back to school. I didn't know that that night was my dad's last night. I thought he had a few more days left. I didn't know that after I got home and turned off my phone that he would struggle through the night and take his last breath at 5:00 am. I did not know that I would have five missed calls from my brother when I woke up that morning to tell me that Dad was gone.
What I do know is that my dad loved me more than life itself. I did not understand the depth until I had a child myself. And nothing, even death, will take that away.
I love you too, Dad. You were my rock, and I didn't know it until now. I know you are still here with your love, but sometimes I still feel lost. I miss you.