The Day My Dad Died
My dad died on Father’s Day, just a few weeks ago. It was sudden; though, not unexpected. He was 83; everyday was a gift. He fell at dinnertime, fractured his hip and was taken to the hospital. In the evening he was resting comfortably. By 5 AM, he was dead. The fall was too much for his old heart.
I wrote a final letter to my dad; placed it in his casket, inside his shirt, next to his heart. I share part of it with you now.
Thank you for teaching me as a child so many small but big things I needed to know – how to put a worm on a fish hook, how to swing a bat, how to throw a curve ball, and how to ride a bike. As I grew into a young man, you taught me how to shave, how to drive a car, and how to be a gentleman in the presence of a lady.
During my teenage years, I learned a lesson about life I’ve never forgot. I was in full bloom as an adolescent, full of hubris and strutting about as my physical strength increased. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I laugh when I think about the time you gave me a bloody nose.
I’m sure you remember. You and I, just the two of us, were on our back patio and I was showing you my agility in shadow boxing. Soon, though, you became the shadow and I got closer and closer – taps to your shoulder, then taps to your cheek. You told me to stop and back off. But, I, the invincible teenage boy, ignored your repeated warnings of danger ahead.
It took me by total surprise – your right hand. It was faster than a lightning bolt. Instantly, I was laid out on the patio floor, blood streaming out of my nose. Somewhat dazed, I got up and went running into the house. Inside, mom saw me and asked what happened. I said, “Dad hit me” and as the ever-protective mother, she started yelling, “Ted, how could you hit our son.” “Mom, I responded, “Calm down. It’s okay. I deserved it.” And, there’s no doubt I did.
I think back on that event and I laugh and smile because I understand how you, my dad, were helping me to become a man. You showed me that, yes, love is tender, but sometimes it also needs to be tough. You showed me there are boundaries in life and when we cross them – as I did – there can be consequences. You showed me there is a time for everything – a time to build up, but also a time to tear down. Again, maybe it’s a guy thing – but thank you, dad, for the bloody nose.
The most important lesson in life you taught me, dad, is what love is. You showed me how to love when love is so very difficult; how to be patient and endure when there seems to be no hope. Families, ours included, are not perfect. And, as you and I journeyed through life as father and son, we sometimes made mistakes and disappointed one another. We both know you were not the perfect father; and we both know neither was I the perfect son. Even today, as I continue in my roles as husband, father, and son, I frequently fail.
But, in the midst of our imperfections, you showed me what love means. You showed me how forgiveness can overcome failure, how love can stand strong against disappointment, and how an embrace can say, “Let’s move on; there are better days ahead.”
I’m going to miss you, dad. What I will feel forever is your presence, your influence and mostly your love. Thank you, dad.
Your youngest son, Len.
I know some of you who share feelings expressed in my letter above. But, I also know that some of you were abandoned emotionally and/or physically by your fathers or you had a father who knew only how to be tough; never tender.
A friend gave me a card; on the front a seashell and a pearl. The caption read, “Seashells remind us that every passing life can leave something beautiful behind.” Regardless of whether you had a dad who was a lover or a loser, those of us left behind can choose to be pearls.
Be a pearl. And leave behind a string of pearls.