I saw it once, way back when. It was a smile, my father's smile, and I saw it so long ago that sometimes the memory of it feels like nothing more than the wisp of a barely remembered dream. I must have been one and a half, maybe two, but that would have been pushing it, because my father died on Halloween night of my second year, 10 days after my birthday in 1965. What kind of memories can babies have that aren't merely gauze covered snippets of faces and moments and comforting babble?
But his smile that day has stayed with me these last 50 years or so. He must have known then what was coming. The cancer that would take him had already staked it's claim. I'm sure my Dad had a lot of fight left in him. His wife, his three kids, his mom and dad and his brother---he had a lot to live for. He was only 22. Who the hell dies at 22? Lots of folks. I'm sure my Dad knew that, too, but you wouldn't know it by the way he grinned that day.
He was a young man, my Dad, much too young by far to face such an early death. But cancer doesn't give a crap about that, or the family that needs you, or for the life just beginning. But my Dad was my Grandfather's son. I'm sure he was sad and afraid, and maybe a little angry. But like my Grandfather, he knew that when the dice came out, you got what you got.
So here he was, grinning like all of his tomorrows were still out there waiting for him. He would never see me take my first wobbly steps or usher me into my first day of kindergarten or teach me how to drive. He wouldn't see me graduate high school or go into the Air Force or bounce his grand-kids on his knees. But the grin on his face was full of the promise and the pride of all those things and more. All of time and space, everything that ever mattered, past, present and future, was right there with my old man that day at that moment, because in the end the moments are all you really have, and he was damned if he was going to ruin this one with glum thoughts of what tomorrow might bring.
There were a lot of things my Dad couldn't give me. But there was a time, some 50 years ago, that he gave me a few of the most precious gifts a father could give a child. He gave me a smile. He gave me himself.
He gave me a moment.
So Dads, on this Father's Day, remember this: no matter how big your kids are, every hug, every kind word, and yes, every smile, matters--because some day, that might be all there is.