I never knew my father. He died at the unimaginable age of 22, back in 1965 when I was barely 2 years old. I only know him from stories that my family members and some of his old friends tell of him—how he was cheerful and strong and fun loving and goofy. I particularly remember one my Grandfather told, of how my father put too many miles on the family car one night, and then attempted to roll the odometer back by driving in reverse in an empty parking lot—Grandpa always got a chuckle out of that one. And then there is the one my Mom told of the time Dad took a car apart and put it back together, just to do it, only to wind up with a bag of left over nuts and bolts after he was done.
My Grandfather became a fine stand in for my father. Indeed, most of what I know about being a man I learned from him—most importantly, that integrity, honesty, and kindness will always define my worth as a father, a husband, a friend and a human being. So this is not a sad story of what could have been---to make it so would cheapen the legacy of my Grandfather and the gift of his presence in my life. When my father passed, I lost a lot, to be sure, but I didn’t lose everything. Others are not as lucky.
But still—I wish I could have known my father. I imagine what it would be like to hear a bed time story from him, or feel one of his hugs. I wish he could have taken me fishing, or taught me how to ride a bike or drive a stick shift. I wonder how it would have been to sit in a cold camp trailer with him and talk about trout fishing over hot cocoa. I wish everyday that he could have been here to hold his grandchildren and tell them stories of their own goofy dad. I wish I could have heard his voice, just once, telling me that he was proud of me.
I do have one clear memory of my Dad—only one. I remember sitting on the floor while he dried himself off one day, running a towel behind his back. It was almost 50 years ago, and his features are hazy, but I remember his grin. It was a grin that was full of love and acceptance, and the sheer joy of being a father. Looking back on it, I think there might have been something else in my father’s smile, an emotion that I had no way of recognizing until the day I looked down on my own children looking back at me---pride.
Well, there you go. Thanks, Dad.