The Best You Can Hope For
Now every gambler knows that the secret to survivin'
And he wasn't an emotional man. I don't recall that he never hugged me much. I don't remember him kissing me when I was growing up. I only saw him cry twice in his life. He kept a lot of things inside, so it was hard to get close to him. And now that he is gone, I think I never really tried hard enough to know this man.
He wasn't much of a gambler. He always played it safe. And he turned down opportunities when they came his way because he wanted security for his family. I think it was because of him that I have taken the chances that I have taken (more than most people will ever know and more than I care to admit) and have traveled on the winding, twisting, bumpy road of life, instead of the straight, narrow, smooth one that he always chose.
I look back and I cannot help but think that I've spent my life life trying not to be him. I didn't want to end up like he did - living in a tiny house, on a small lot, in a crowded lower-middle-class housing development; with hardly any money, scrimping away every day just to make ends meet. He saved very little, for some obscure rainy day, but when it was all over there wasn't even enough for a day with a few sprinkles let alone a real rainy day.
I think now, looking back on things, that he really never wished he were rich, never dreamed of wealth, and never hungered for fame. He was happy being himself. Although no one knew his name and and tiny sum left in his "life savings" is laughable, he was happy being who he was. And, though he rarely touched me during his life, he touches me now, just as surely as if he were standing here. I am sure he knows he is touching me now more than he could have ever hoped.
This man, who left us this week, was a man too hard to get to know, I thought. But, now, after soul-searching for the last two days, I have learned something about myself - and I don't like it at all. It occurred to me that he was too hard to get to know only because I never took the time to get to know him. When I thought about it, I realized that subconsciously I was always punishing him for those times when I was growing up, when I would beg him to do things with me and he was very often "too busy". But it was with a child's eyes I viewed the world. Child's eyes are very often selfish eyes. Children learn to consider others and become less selfish as they grow. Or at least most children do.
It never occurred to me, the child, that he was too busy all right. Too busy trying to feed our family, too busy struggling with the bills, or too busy trying to keep a roof over our heads. Not too busy for me, but too busy because of me. Life was not easy for a man of meager means. After digging deep in my soul and thinking about my life and my relationship with him, I've come to the sad and painful realization that it was me who never had the time for him because I was always "too busy" - too busy punishing him for things I blamed him for that were not his fault. And, "The cat's in the cradle...".
When a family member passes away, memories come in torrents. They flood the mind with thousands of tiny rivulets, all moving so fast you can hardly sort them out. You have to take the time to let the flood of memories and feelings resolve; you need to let them settle in and mix with the grief and sorrow. But I, always "too busy", thought I could deal with them by pretending they were not there. But just because you ignore the truth doesn't mean it is not there. Eventually it comes calling. And when it does, it won't knock on the door. It will grab you and sit you down, stare you in the eye, and have a long heart-to-heart talk with you. And you better listen because it won't let you rest until you do. It came barging in on me. And when it was finished with me, I cried.
I only remember my father crying twice in his life; once when my mother passed away long ago and once on the day we had to put him in a nursing home because he required a lot of medical attention that neither me or my sister could provide him in our homes. One time he cried for someone else and once he cried for himself. I think we all deserve to cry for ourselves more than once in our lives as selfish as that may seem.
He was a man of hidden emotions, a stoic, distant, intelligent man who traded dreams for security and rarely showed the love he most surely felt. No man sacrifices his dreams for nothing. He sacrificed his dreams for me and his family and never once regretted it. Like I said before, he was happy with who he was.
I have many memories washing over me right now but the one that stands out is the day, last summer, on his birthday, I took him for a walk through a beautiful park. I pushed him around in a wheelchair, and although his memory had been dulled by dementia, his intelligence and wit were still there. We walked through the winding paved paths that weaved lazily through the park, passed the many sun-splashed ponds. On the banks of these ponds there were all kinds of geese going in and out of the water. And I recall, with a tear, telling him how big those ducks were. He gave me a whimsical smile and reminded me that he was old but not so old he didn't know a duck from a goose. And he smiled and so did I. And the warm sun of August shined upon a father and his son a moment forever frozen in time.
On Tuesday of this past week, a nurse called from the nursing home and said our father was not doing so well and he asked to see both of us. Ominous words from a nurse and prescient words from a father to his children. We got there as soon as we could. My sister arrived first because she lives closer. He talked to her for a moment before I arrived although I don't know what was said. When I arrived, he was sleeping fitfully, taking air in short thin breaths. I called him "Dad?" "Dad?" and he opened his eyes. For the first time those clear steel-blue eyes looked dull and tired to me. And he looked into my eyes and waved to me with his right hand. He never spoke a word. He wished for his children to come and be with him and satisfied we were there, he never opened his eyes again. At 3:30AM on May 1, 2007, my father passed away in his sleep.
every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser,
The greatest sadness happens when you first realize cannot go back and right the wrongs of the past. "Every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser" and I've been playing a losing hand, but not because I was dealt one.
Now my father is gone and I will never get a chance to know him better. And, he will never get a chance to know me better. Too late I learn. Too late I realize it was not his fault. The fault we were not closer is mine. He gave me as much as he had and as much as he could but I didn't give him as much as I had or as much as I could. And now it's too late. A lesson learned too late is a lesson all the same.
I do not doubt, however, that my father is reading what I write and he knows what I am thinking and how I feel. He knows these words come from a man with a heart filled with self-doubt, grief, regret and sorrow. And I'm sure if he could he would tell me that everything is all right. And I would say, "but it's not all right, Dad. It is not all right."
Dad, I thought you never hugged me enough or showed your emotions enough, but I want you to know that I finally realize how much and how deeply you have touched my life. And how you much you are touching it now. I'm sorry that I never took the time to get to know you better. I'm sorry that I never gave you a chance. I'm sorry for a lot of things, Dad. I realize that it is a little late now to tell you all of this, but still I want you to know that I was always proud of you. I will always be proud that you were my father.
Forgive me for things not done and for not giving you more time to know me. Now, too late, I know that we could have been really good friends. I will remember you as a good, decent, honest man. You had little money and no fame but you were a great man and will always be a great man to me. Maybe the reason why I wanted to be different from you was that I knew I could have never been the man you were. Maybe i didn't want to even try.
Now the time has come to say Farewell, Dad. But, neither of us like long goodbyes so let me just say this:
Goodbye, Dad. I love you. I will miss you.
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