My old man

Sometimes in life you face things that are tough. I had to deal with one of those tough situations over the past two weeks with the passing of my father.

I originally started this column with the intentions of finishing it for Father’s Day. We got the news that week, and I just couldn’t do it, so I want to now. I knew this was something that would eventually come, but I’m not sure if you’re ever really prepared for it. I’m sure it affects everyone differently, I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it yet because it all happened so quickly.

It was just a regularly scheduled appointment, but for the first time my mother went with him. They told him they had found something that needed to be double-checked, claiming it was likely COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

After another quick check and scan, they decided a biopsy was needed. That was the first time “the word” was used, but I don’t think it was a surprise to my father. Things went downhill quickly, and by Friday the doctor gave us the news that it was indeed what we feared, and the cancer was very advanced. We were told he couldn’t withstand the chemo and radiation, and that it wasn’t going to take long to turn bad.

Dad went home that Saturday. The following Saturday, June 23, 2018, dad took his final breath at 73 years old. He passed away surrounded by his family after eating a good breakfast my brother made for him. It just happened far too quickly to even sink in yet.

My dad was an old school guy. He valued his privacy and his only care in the world was taking care of his wife and children and providing us a good life. When my brother and I moved out into the world on our own, he still did little things throughout the years to help us. Sometimes it was sticking a $20 bill in our pocket for gas, sometimes it was taking us to the grocery store and buying us a whole beef sirloin, which he had cut up and wrapped for the freezer. “You might want a steak next week,” he would say.

Being in the military was and still is a family thing for us. Dad served and then my brother and I served. Now two of my children are serving as well. He always made a point of letting us know that serving our country was a good and honorable thing. With that in mind, we also learned about serving others. “Don’t make a big deal out it,” he would always say. “Just do what you’re supposed to and help out when you can.”

Dad told me some things before I left for the Army. They were about doing the right things, even when no one was watching, and avoiding trouble. I tried to always keep them in mind, even though there were times I conveniently forgot them. It turned out the way he said it would when I ignored his advice … every single time.

Dad worked a lot when we were little. My first memories of him were when he worked at the old Sealtest Dairy, also known as Farris Brothers, in Newbern. I remember him coming past the house at least a few times on his route and stopping. We got ice cream. That was a big deal for a five or six-year-old. Later he went on to Xaloy, where he eventually retired from.

At his funeral we played a song that hit home very hard. If you’ve never listened to “My Old Man” by the Zac Brown Band, let me advise you to listen to it alone the first time.

It reminded me of playing with the tools in his tool box, even though I was too young to do anything with them other than try to line up the sockets from biggest to smallest. It reminded me of trying to walk through the living room with his work shoes on. I thought they were cool because they had a really hard toe with metal in it. It reminded me of when he took me out to drive his truck for the first time. It was an old Chevy C10 with a three on the tree. I wasn’t very good at first, but I eventually figured it out. I’d give anything to have that truck now.

At the end of the song it talks about life coming full circle. The child is now the father with a son of his own, and he can see his son doing the same things he did as a child and young man and the pride it filled his heart with. He also talks about his hopes that one day his son will look at him the way he looked at his own father, and that he hopes his father is proud of who he has become.

I’ve read those lyrics a hundred times since dad passed. I’ll never be able to fill his boots, but like the song says, I’ll do the best I can. I feel like if I do half as good a job as he did, things will turn out just fine. Looking at the children my brother and I have, we must have learned at least a little something from him. They carried him to his final resting place and have turned out to be good and decent young men and women themselves.

Thanks dad.

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