Fathers…….. “and then he was gone…”

      My father died when I was only 11.  He had an ulcer.  His stomach blew up, and he died.  Crazy, right?  A simple trip to a doctor could have prevented this from happening, but we had no insurance and no money for doctors, so he died.  I thought he would be around forever, so I didn’t really get to know him.

Physically, he was only 5’8″ tall, but I always saw him as a giant of a man.  He was strong, and he was invincible, and he was handsome and he was smart…until he wasn’t.  As it turns out, I discovered

that he was highly “uneducated”, having been forced to quit school at an early age to take care of his bedridden mother and his younger brothers and sisters.   His father was wealthy as he owned hundreds of thousands of acres of lumber land near Ottawa, Canada.  This was in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s.  My father’s mother was somewhat of an invalid, and when my grandfather was on his death bed, he told the oldest son to take care of grandma and his 6 siblings.  There was no will, and when grandpa died, the oldest took all the money and basically left the family to their own devises.

Anyway, I digress.  I remember dad’s strong arms, made that way from his many years as a house painter.  As it turned out, the pressures of raising a family of seven kids with one on the way made him anything but invincible as nerves ate him up from the inside.  You might say he was very “vincible”, which my childish mind figured must be a word if the opposite was invincible.

What I remember is he was a man with a wonderful heart.  He was kind and considerate and never got upset unless you disrespected his wife, my mother, or any of his kids.  Then… watch out!  He was our biggest fan at our little league baseball games.   He was able to be tough and fair as a parent, while at the same time he let each of us kids know that we were special to him.  He found time, and a nickel, once a month for each of us to have a “date” with him, without the rest of the kids in tow, and we could buy some penny candy and we did not have to compete for his affections with the rest of the clan.

I remember when he would sit on our porch with a neighbor and B.S. about this and that.  I would sneak to the step right beneath him and crawl in between his legs.  He would sit with his hands cupped together, and I would put my small hands inside of his and I felt like nothing could hurt me.  I was surrounded by superman, and there was no kryptonite left on the planet that could touch my very own super-dad.

No, we did not have money, but when we  heard his old jalopy coming down the street, we would all scramble to greet him after a hard days work.  We didn’t know about his struggles and his fatigue because his eyes would brighten up as he climbed out of his car, black lunch pail in hand, and open his arms to his kids.  We loved him,  and then he was gone.  Gone…gone…gone…

No, I do not know how any of the people I meet on a daily basis feel when they lose a husband, or wife, or child, or parent, sibling or a friend.  I only know how I felt when my dad died, and that was 51 years ago.  I don’t think back about the shack we lived in with no running water, or our crooked outhouse.  I don’t think about the meatless meals we had most of the time, or the lack of toys or not taking vacations to exotic places like my classmates.  What I do think about is the many what if’s?  What if he would not have died?  What if he was there to advise me on so many things?  How would I have been different as a student, as a soldier, as a husband if he had lived a normal expected life span?

What I think about is the pain that was instantly branded into my soul the moment I saw him in his casket that left a hollowness that I felt was unique and never felt by anyone before or since.  He was my dad.  He was my source of all that I was and he was gone.  Seeing him in a casket was strangely not strange to me as a little boy.  It was surreal and it was a play that would end and he would jump up and say “gotcha!”  But of course he didn’t.  He is buried at St. Bonaventure Cemetery in Olean, New York.  He has a small, slanted headstone to mark his final resting place.  I was there last summer, and a picture of me kneeling over his grave, and another of me kneeling at my mother’s and it felt like yesterday…his death I mean, not kneeling over his grave.

At my mother's and stepfather's gravesite 2010

I am rambling.  My point is that all the money in the universe does not make up for the gift of love that is shared between a father and a child.  I learned from my father in lessons that he taught just by being a loving and caring man.  He lived his life in goodness and in honor, and I like to think that part of him rubbed off on me.  There are fathers due to biology, and there are fathers who turn biology into a kind of chemistry of love by being there for their kids, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.  I know, I know…these are the traditional vows made at a wedding.  However, some people live them without having to speak them, and that is what a father is, whether you have your dad  for 11 years or for 60.

I remember when my kids were just 2 and 3 and I had a big, fancy title with a big cemetery company.  I was on the road all the time, making money and acting like the big shot that my title of assistant V.P. of sales entitled me to act like.  It was almost Christmas, and I was on the road in Springfield, Ohio and my family was in Indianapolis.  I couldn’t sleep because I realized that I was the complete opposite of my own dad.  I was in the money and out of my family’s life.  That next week, I walked into my boss’ office, gave him the keys to the new Caddy that the company had given me, told them I had to quit my $100K a year job because I needed to be with my wife and my kids.  I had no idea what I would do for money,  I would paint houses if I had to, but I was determined that I would share every important event in my kids lives, along with my wonderful, sweet wife.  I would share the tuck-ins, and the bedtime stories, and the pains of growing up, from first kisses to times when a first kiss was yearned for and never came.   And I did!  I dried the tears, and cried my own because thats what father’s do.  I cried for my little ones’ hurts, and we shared ice-cream and late night talks, and I kissed away many a booboo and scared off many a boogieman.

Dad and his angels

Fast-forward 20 years.  One of my daughters just graduated from Purdue in Lafayette, and the other is a Junior there.  They are smart, funny and loving girls.  They like to laugh, and have fun, and they still like to share time with their mom and their dad.  Quite unusual in this day and age, but they are what life is really about.

My point in this rambling bit of prose is that anyone who reads this has the choice, right now, to look at their dad and say I love you.  Right now, while your dad is alive and able to return the sentiment, you need to let him know how important he is to you.  And all of you dads need to look at your sons and daughters, and tell them that you love them.  Live each day as if it is your last, because one day, it will be.  My biggest regret with my own father is that he never got a chance to meet my sweet wife and my two tremendous girls.  You, my friend, can be the man you want to be just by deciding to be.

Father’s Day is just a couple of weeks off as I write these words.  But father’s day is every day when you are the father that you are capable of being.  I am so far from being a perfect dad, but my goal is to be there for my girls no matter what.  I have not always made good decisions, and my girls won’t either as they learn how to be the best young ladies they can  become.  But as long as God lets me walk this earth, I will be the best man I can be for them.  My choice to leave the highest paying job I ever had was made along with my earthly Dad and with my Father in Heaven.  I have put my trust in them, and I have agreed to be an instrument that they are free to use to guide my family through the days I am bound to this earth.

Now, in the year 2011, I know that I could easily make it into the Dad’s Hall of Fame.  This is not ego, or pride talking.  I know, just as I know the sun will come up, because I see the beauty of my love and devotion as a father in the wonder and joy that reflects back to me every time I see those two terrific individuals who call me Dad.

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there!

Written by Daniel Moran

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