“You always miss your daddy when he’s gone. My daddy’s been gone 25 years now, and I miss him every day.”
That’s my 91-year-old dad consoling my wife, Lori, just the other day when we were visiting him in Lubbock, TX. Her dad died recently, and the pain left by his demise is still raw.
As Dad spoke, I flashbacked to that day several weeks ago when I was rushing Lori to the airport so she could see her dad once more before he died. “My daddy’s dying,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes, enunciating her words matter of factly, like a person who awakens in the morning to find the lights were left on all night, acknowledging the obvious with surprise, “The lights are on.”
“My daddy’s dying.”
And that night, a few hours after her arrival, he was gone.
Father’s Day is a day to celebrate dads, but for many, the joy is tinged with the pain of a daddy that’s gone.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to your dad, especially when you’ve had a good one,” Lori whispered to herself as much as to me as I kissed her good-bye just before she stepped into the security line at the airport.
“What do you miss most about granddad?” I questioned Dad after he tried to comfort Lori.
His eyes moistened and his voice cracked: “I just didn’t let him know how much I appreciated him for the sacrifices he made.”
Dad gave a for instance: His dad (my granddad) sent Mom and Dad $50 a month the entire time Dad was in dental school.
I didn’t take Dad’s remorse to mean he had had a failure of etiquette; it wasn’t that Dad had forgotten to send thank you notes or neglected to verbalize his appreciation. No, I believe it went deeper than that.
I believe Dad wished he had gazed deeply into his daddy’s life more often, taking in their lives together in ways neither Dad nor Granddad would allow at the time. Life got intense. Dad worked his way through dental school, set up a new dental practice, labored diligently to be successful, providing for his growing family’s needs. And Granddad lived a full life too.
What likely happened is what happens to many a father and son: I think my dad shook his dad’s hand, maybe at graduation, then waved good-bye as Dad raced to fulfill his role as a dentist with new patients and a father with responsibilities. Now at 91, he’s thinking back more and more to what really matters. And what really matters is the legacy of love we leave those who come behind us. Dad sees how his dad did that, and Dad wishes he had returned the love more often, sharing more meaningful moments with his dad.
For me, knowing my dad’s time won’t go on forever (and the thought of losing your dad, especially when you’ve had a good one, is painful, so we tend to dismiss it) makes me realize that I feel the same way about him as he does his dad, my granddad.
It’s easy to think about the times when we missed it rather than celebrate the moments when we had it.
A man reflected on his relationship with his father. As a child he looked up to his dad as the kind of man who put life’s disasters into perspective, whether it was a broken leg or a broken heart. As an adult, this man went through a series of personal crises that left him devastated. Feeling overwhelmed and helpless, he spent his last $300 on a trip to visit his father in Florida.
On the last night of his stay, with his personal problems still unresolved and awaiting him, he and his dad stood at the end of a jetty, watching the sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico. In frustration, he turned to his dad and blurted, “You know Dad, if we could take all of the great moments we’ve experienced together in our lifetimes and put them back to back, they wouldn’t last 20 minutes.”
His dad responded with a simple, “Yup.”
It stunned the son. He looked back at the red glow of the sun disappearing on the horizon.
And then the father turned to him, and looking squarely into his son’s eyes, said, “Precious, aren’t they?”
All we can do is take in those daddy moments, precious as each one is, and embrace them, and once those moments have passed into eternity, continue to live them, for they carry within them the legacy daddy left—- and as long as we live the legacy of love in the best way we can—-even though daddy’s gone, he’s still here.