Today we honor all of the Dads. My husband is the BEST Dad ever. And I have four sons and two sons-in-law who are showing signs of greatness. Every year around this time I start reminiscing about when my father was alive.
My Dad wasn’t the “Leave it to Beaver” kind of father. He was a gruff man who seldom smiled. That made it all the more magical when he did. He could curse like a sailor (although he was a career Army man) or be as gentle as a lamb when he held my infant son.
When we were growing up, he could strike fear into us kids without raising his voice. My father never laid a hand on any us, but he would whip off his belt if we didn’t “hear” him tell us it was time for bed, and it would smack in the air.
One time when I was about 10, my dad whipped off his belt and it flew out of his hand, the buckle catching me in the eye. The look on his face was enough of an apology, but the next day when I got home from school there was a brand new bike in the garage — the very same one that I had been saving to buy.
I was one of six kids, so I didn’t get the attention I thought I deserved. It was only when my father got sick that I really got to know him. He was a brittle diabetic and the last year of his life I quit work to care for him. Every day I’d stop by a little before noon (he
didn’t get up much before 11 a.m.). I’d fix him lunch and then we’d get in the car to run errands.
We’d take clothes to the dry cleaners, or go downtown to pay the utility bill, but every day we would stop at the corner drug store to get a pack of cigars. There were five in the pack and Dad would never buy more than one. He insisted that he buy them every day because he didn’t want stale cigars. (He had to realize that they only restocked once a month.)
We would return to his home and watch TV while he smoked his stogies. My mother would come home from work around 4 p.m., and I would go home to make dinner for my family. Dad was in and out of the hospital that last year and I can remember the last time I helped him into the car. He turned to me and said, “This is it, I’m not coming home this time.”
The funeral was a blur. I can remember a month later pushing a shopping cart through the grocery store. All of a sudden I smelled cigar smoke. (Back then, people smoked everywhere.) I left my cart and in a trance I followed the smell. I awoke at the checkout counter behind the man with the lit cigar. I was so embarrassed I wanted to flee but I had to go back to my cart to retrieve my purse.
I never visited my father’s grave until about two years after he died. One day I had the strongest urge to go see the grave marker. I drove to the cemetery and parked my car, realizing I didn’t have a clue as to where he was buried. I started wandering around and then I began to panic. I was running from grave to grave trying to find my Dad. Reason finally took control and I spotted a little house on the edge of the cemetery.
I went in and asked the woman behind a desk if she knew where my father was buried. She left the room to go to a file cabinet. A man appeared at the door and asked if I needed help. I told him I was looking for my father. When I told him the name his face lit up and he said, “Oh I know where George is — follow me.”
Without saying anything to the woman who was searching through the files, I walked outside just as the man climbed on a small tractor. He drove slow enough that I could follow on foot. I had walked about 200 yards when he pointed to a tree.
“George is right over there,” he said.
I could barely contain my joy as I raced to where he had pointed. I looked up to thank the man, but he was nowhere to be found. I scanned the grounds but there was no retreating tractor. He had vanished.
Driving home that day I realized that it was April 21 — my father’s birthday.
It’s been nearly 30 years since my Dad died. The tears are gone but sometimes I get a catch in my throat when I realize that my children never really got to know their grandfather. I don’t know what heaven is like, but I’ve got to believe that Dad is watching all of us. I can see him smile when we have done the right thing and frown when we make a stupid choice. I wonder if he ever gets upset enough that he whips off his belt.
If you have a comment or want to reminisce about your father please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org