49: Pops

49: Pops

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Pops

Adversity introduces a man to himself.

~Author Unknown

I can vividly remember standing alongside my mother’s grave as her shiny, lilac casket was lowered into the ground. I was five years old. As friends and family threw flowers into the grave, I recall throwing a letter that I had written. Then I watched it descend into the open earth.

During the ceremony, my father masked his pain by holding back his tears as he received consolation from those who surrounded him. He held the three of us close in his arms, and with a knot in his throat he whispered, “I promise you girls that everything is going to be okay.” Although we were too young to understand, my father tried hard to remain strong for my two younger sisters and me. My father was only twenty-five years old when he took on the challenging role of both mother and father. From that moment on, he devoted himself to providing a life of happiness and fulfillment for us as we grew up without the love of a mother.

For many years, my father worked long hours with complex and dangerous factory machinery. Although this physically demanding job consumed his energy, he always managed a smile when we greeted him at the door with open arms. He attended many of our school functions as well, events that were often painful without our mother. My sisters and I dreaded most of all the annual Mother’s Day performance at our elementary school. Watching so many mothers gazing at their children with admiration made our participation difficult. But our sadness faded as we saw our dad smiling proudly by the back doors. As a grown woman, I now understand how hard this must have been for him.

His endless sacrifice took a toll. When I was a teenager, my father suffered a back injury at work that resulted in the loss of his job. We experienced a tough economic time, as he was out of work for several years. However, my sisters and I never felt deprived of anything because of the love and attention he bestowed upon us. In spite of the physical back pain and emotional stress, he used this long stretch at home to attend our sporting events and chaperone school field trips. Fully present for his children, he spent hours and hours with us inventing new silly games that always ended with tears of laughter. He even shared stories about our mother as we listened to music.

Eventually, my father regained the strength to find work, though he was precluded from physical labor. Because he had never graduated from high school, it became extremely challenging for him to find employment. Most of the job offers he received paid less than what he needed to provide for our family. As a result, my father decided to complete high school by pursuing a GED. I can clearly remember waking up at night and seeing him lying on the living room floor with his books scattered alongside as he studied and prepared for the exam. His diligence and commitment to his studies paid off when he passed the exam and was able to find a fulfilling position as a school assistant and athletics coach at an elementary school.

I am forever grateful to my father for his unconditional love and for being the best parent he could be, even during the toughest times in our lives. His endless sacrifices and commitment to putting us first have not gone unnoticed. Twenty-five years ago he told my sisters and me that everything was going to be okay, and he has kept his promise ever since.

~Lizy Herrera

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