A little over seven years ago, after well over seven years of suffering at different levels, my father finally let go. I was actually in Chicago on a business trip when I got the word that things had taken a turn for the worse. I cancelled the rest of the business trip, caught some connecting flights and ended back up in Louisiana to see my dad in what would be the last time I saw him alive.
My father had a pretty tough life although if you talked to him, you wouldn’t even get a hint of it. I remember often right before a cookout or nice dinner he would say, “I wonder what the poor folks are eating tonight.” Truth is, if he knew of ANYONE in need, he would give the shirt off his back to help them. I don’t just believe this, I witnessed it over and over again.
Dad was in the third or fourth grade or so when he was forced to drop out of school because his father had taken ill and couldn’t work. He literally became the “man” of the house and took care of his younger brother and sister. This continued on for quite some time but he did go back and get his GED and joined the Army. I learned only upon is death that he was actually a captain and was in charge of a company of soldiers. Interesting that he never shared that with me but that was dad. He would never say anything that would give him attention or could be considered putting him in the spotlight.
There are some parents that teach their kids through talking, demanding, and “do as I say, not as I do” methods. Others simply teach through their actions. I can honestly say that I have never heard my dad say a curse word. As I was typing this out, I thought, certainly there must have been a few times but there simply wasn’t. I was the youngest of six kids so maybe he ran out of them by the time I came along, but I doubt it.
I believe that because he had such a tough start, he could always relate to anyone in need. It didn’t matter if it was a hitchhiker, a homeless person on the side of the road or anyone who asked for help, family or friend, he would always offer it. I believe he remembered how tough he had it from his own experiences that there were instant connections. If someone was in need, he could and would instantly strike up a conversation and give whatever money he had on him. I’m not just talking about a dollar or two, it typically was whatever he had on him at the time. Some might look at that as naïve but I understand it to be compassion and empathy.
I can remember a number of the times the person he was talking to (that clearly needed assistance) didn’t even ask for help or money, but he would simply ask them first. He must have known what it was like to be in there shoes so he was able to save just a little of their dignity by offering assistance first. What a man!
When I say they don’t make men like that anymore, I really mean it. Since his passing, I have struggled much more than I expected. The hurt doesn’t go away, doesn’t get any easier, it just simply dulls just a little. Through the past two years, I have at times struggled by all the things I could have or should have done while he is still around. But you know what? He wouldn’t have wanted that. I can see him looking in my eyes telling me something like, “we’ll have none of that” then ask about the weather or anything to change the subject. It bothered him deeply to see anyone hurting or struggling and his natural, automatic response was to offer help. What a man!
Father’s greatest gifts to their children are not all the stuff they accumulate, the gifts they give them, the money they provide, nor the power and influence they possess. No, not at all. A father’s greatest gift is simple. It is living by what you preach (or don’t preach at all in my dad’s case) which is then measured by their actions both in times of glory as well as in times of struggles. The gifts my father taught me were kindness, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, love, gratitude. These gifts have been well ingrained within my soul. My goal in life is to share these same traits with my own son and if I can accomplish a tenth of what my dad taught me, my life will be considered a success.
I miss you daddy! Happy birthday.