Sitting alone with him in the living room, I looked into his blue eyes grasping for something to say. A contrast, his eyes told two stories. One of a tired, worn man whose body was betraying him. The other story of a man who still had a desire for life.
I sneaked away from my brother’s house to spend what I suspected would be the last time that I saw my dad alive.
Some days are more sacred to us than others. For many July fourth is a reminder of our nation birth and a symbol of freedom. Others view it as a time of celebration by drinking beer, eating hotdogs, attending parades and watching their local fireworks.
Perhaps they are not aware of the original intent of the celebration. Ritual and custom often overshadow original meaning.
After 2004, Independence day became something different for me. Not that I don’t appreciate what our founding fathers accomplished by establishing the United States. I was born, raised, and have lived here for most of my life. I am an American. I am thankful for the many blessing but realize we have our flaws as well as lots of room for growth.
What changed in 2004? What caused this time to take on new meaning and become sacred to me?
July 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th, of 2004 were last days that I would see my lifelong, best friend — my father — alive. It was the last time in which we would talk, share stories, smile, and appreciate each others company.
Fourteen years later since he has passed away, as of lately, I miss him more.
He was by no means Ward Cleaver.
Those of you are scratching your head wondering who Ward Cleaver is, just google him.
Ward Cleaver was the quintessential father figure for the fifties TV right up there with Andy Tayor of the Andy Griffith Show.
Ward was a hardworking man devoted to his family. Along with June, his wife, Ward graciously faced the challenges of raising his two sons. At least that is how I remember the show.
My Dad was a man plagued by his childhood demons and a lifelong alcoholic. At times, life was difficult growing up. When on his extended drinking binges, life could be hell at home.
Despite all the insanity and brokenness, he found a way to demonstrate his love. He found a way to be “there” when a struggling teenager needed him most. He made an effort to connect with me. I receive a chance to see a side that maybe my younger brothers never did.
Maybe, in the deepness of his soul, he found his deliverance through me.
During my troubled teen years, he turned from father to friend. At fifteen, I adopted for my life philosophy of Sex Drugs Rock and Roll. After all, It was the seventies.
In hindsight, it was my way of masking my pain, my way of dealing with the hardships of life.
Dad reached out to me. Without getting too preachy, he let me know he was concerned about me smoking pot and drug use. In the long run, I found the path to healing that he did not.
When he went to the coffee shop, Mr. Donuts, he would invite me along. He genuinely enjoyed spending time with me. We would discuss and debate — he loved to debate — everything from the color of the sky, religion, politics. Nothing was left off the shelf.
He nudged me into putting an application at Mr. Donut. I received my first parttime job there. It lasted until I went into the Navy. I knew how to mop floors and clean toilets ahead of my recruits at boot camp.
Today, coffee shops are my hold on what, we, had.
Perhaps my love for coffee, espresso, coffee shops resulted from the special relationship that dad and I enjoyed.
I have tried to establish a similar tradition with my two sons.
After I went into the navy when I was home on leave, one of the first things he would say, “You want to get a cup?”
1995, the coffee shop visits ended. Diagnosed with throat cancer, Dad ended up breathing through a tracheal tube. The radiation treatments caused damage to the muscles around his neck and shoulders.
Over the next several years he became stooped and aged very quickly. At sixty-eight, he looked in his eighties.
Despite his contrariness toward his treatment, he went into remission and lived until August 24, 2004. He was fed through a tube in his stomach and breathed through a trach. Communications were by written notes, hand gestures, and mouthing his words.
My wife, three children, our dog and I drove from Virginia Beach to Plattsburgh, New York for that last visit with him.
Ever since then, July Fourth is not just a celebration but is sacred.