(Part 1 – This was written over the last 10+ months when it was clear, short of a miracle, my dad wasn’t going to be with us for much longer. I wrote a line here, a paragraph there, random thoughts, not really edited, with the last line being written a couple weeks before my dad went….. Home.)
My dad was my hero growing up. Like many sons I felt like he could do anything. Two memories come to mind….
First…One day he climbed up a tall and monstrous tree (at least it was to me…when you’re 5) to cut down some old rotting limbs. He completed the task with a saw in one hand and a strong grip on a random branch with the other. To my young eyes he was a fearless giant in a land of mere mortals.
Second…I remember as a young boy he would play football with me and my two older brothers. On one particular play he caught the ball and I raced after him in an attempt to catch him. I couldn’t. Now I wasn’t the fastest runner to ever lace ’em up, but I was playing sports, in passable physical shape, and for what I lacked in size and strength I made up for in speed….. and I could not catch my dad. Hero.
Dad was in a hunting accident as a teenager. His left hand, arm, and shoulder were severely injured because of the incident, and remain in this condition to this day. He doesn’t have anything near a full grip, full range of motion, or full use of his left hand, arm, and shoulder. “Shot” from the shotgun shell remain throughout his left side.
Did I ever hear him complain about his “condition” or see him use it as an excuse? Not once. How many of you knew this had happened? How many of you knew his left hand was largely disabled, or at best, unable to provide anything near a strong grip? Ever noticed it?
That tells you just a bit of what kind of man he is. How many of us would use it as an excuse and say things like,
“Yeah, but my hand.”
“Yeah, but unfortunately I can’t help you move, you know with my bad arm and all.”
“No son, I can’t play catch with you. My arm feels a little weak today.”
“Sorry, no piggy back rides today. My shoulder isn’t feeling good.”
If you’ve learned about his injury for the first time…let me copy and paste an earlier paragraph…
One day he climbed up a tall and monstrous tree to cut some down some old rotting limbs. He completed the task with a saw in one hand and a strong grip on a random branch with the other. To my young eyes he was a fearless giant in a land of mere mortals.
Knowing this as a child, knowing the difficulties he had growing up….in my mind….he…could….do….anything.
But now….Dad is sick. It’s happened over time. Gradual. A slow burn. Parkinson’s. Bronchitis. Various heart issues. Various lung issues. Coughing up blood. Spills. Having trouble breathing. On and on.
I feel like I’m unable to blink as I watch this cruel…slow…descent.
I’ll be perfectly candid. It’s one thing for your hero to go out in a blaze of glory…..
….but it’s another to see the spark slowly fade from their eyes.
I’m not ready for that spark to fade. I want my daughter, Maggie Grace, to see it one more time. I want him to see her dance in her first recital in the spring. I want them to share in another laugh. They have such a special bond that others have noticed. When my dad walked in with me as she was being held in the ICU, we both marveled and laughed at how big and strong she looked. When he held her for the first time in the hospital he couldn’t get past the word “Grace” when he began to sing “Amazing Grace” to her. As he sang I promise they were the only two people in the universe.
When she was younger she would stay with my parents a few days a week. During those days we always noticed…she was loving to all, but with pure honesty she always gave a bit more to her Pa. She always held on a bit longer. Sat in his lap for an extra moment. Smiled a bit wider. Laughed a bit louder. We can’t be at the end of their story, can we? But that’s a discussion for another time.
I haven’t had a true conversation with him in a few years. I want to talk with him. As I speak in the past tense it isn’t because he is no longer with us, but as of now barring a miracle from God…he is no longer with us.
I miss my dad. And I feel like I’m unable to blink as I watch this cruel…slow…descent.
As I write this I know what we’re going through as a family is nothing unique. Millions of sons, daughters, wives, etc. have dealt with a fading family member. But millions of people have broken an arm and that knowledge doesn’t help the pain subside when it happens to you, does it? The pain is still there, regardless.
One of my first memories…walking down to the basement and seeing him leaned over the clothes hamper on his knees praying. My dad was my rock. Gentle. Calm. Commanded respect. Very few words and a whole lot of action.
I only remember two instances of him raising his voice and one was when one of my brothers gave him some lip. It never happened again.
Yeah, we were punished. We had rules. But we felt secure with him. We felt loved.
We noticed how he treated my mom was how he treated us. Gentle. Loving. Patient. Always with the combination of complete power and complete tenderness.
As for how he treated others….the same. For those of you who know him….when he walked into a room everyone just seemed a bit more at ease…a bit happier? more at peace?….I don’t know how to explain it other than the Spirit moved through him with an electricity I’ve rarely seen in anyone else.
Dad has a velvet voice when he sings. Smooth. Comforting. Like a warm blanket. When I was young I didn’t appreciate it. He was just my dad who sang a lot. Yeah, people would say, “Man, your dad sure can sing.” I just thought they were being nice. I would see people cry as the words left his lips. I always tried to figure out why people loved to hear him sing so much. He clearly hadn’t cornered the market on having a good voice. So many others have good voices but however many years ago I figured it out. When he sings…. you believe him. So many singers go through the motions but there was never a “performance” he simply phoned in.
Sincerity was a constant companion in his life.
Everywhere I go when he would introduce me to someone, to one of his friends or old acquaintances, they would say hello and half of the introductions concluded with the person saying, “Hey, your dad has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. I don’t know what it is but I love to hear him sing.” We know what It is.
Dad introduced me to some pretty rough characters over the years. One of the many down on their luck he would help without judgement. One in particular said, “You know what it is about Cleon? He’s a straight shooter.” Yeah. That’s definitely him. On one hand he would never mince words. He didn’t say things to simply make you feel better if he wasn’t speaking complete truth. On the other hand….and I’m not making this up, not embellishing, not exaggerating….I never heard him say an ill word about anyone. Ever. Not once. I’ll let that sink in….
But now a thread on his cape is being pulled. Slowly. Cruelly. Without remorse. And I feel like I’m unable to blink as I watch this cruel…slow…descent.
It would be easy to think, and I am currently, that it’s unfair for a man who has lived life with such excellence to fade so slowly, so discouragingly, to almost impossibly be able to live these days with dignity.
But then I realize….then I remember….I know Who is pulling the thread….and I am able to blink.
“..and one day the past will be like a forever frozen pond…and the present will only flow with His beauty.”