From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Visiting Dad

As we try to change, we will discover within us a fierce struggle between our loyalty to that battle-scarred victim of his own childhood, our father, and the father we want to be.

Augustus Y. Napier

Hi, Dad! I’m back. I hope you recognize me with my gray hair. It’s been awhile. I’m wearing my travel clothes because I’m here in Detroit on business. I retired from classroom teaching, but I’m doing consulting work now. Dad, I’ve always been grateful to you for telling me I needed an education to get ahead in this world. You were so right.

In Proverbs 15:5, it says: “Only a fool despises his father’s advice; a wise son considers each suggestion” (TLB).

Because I followed your advice, I had a good thirty-year career and I thank you, but today I thought I’d bring you up-to-date on family matters and just, you know, say hello.

Have any of the other kids been here to talk with you? We’re all fine, Dad, except for June. All of her children were grown before she left. She should be with you now. She always said she knew she’d get cancer, “Just like Daddy did.” From her experience, I have taught my children “Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.”

Six of us grew up without you, Dad. After you died, we had to learn on our own what we could and could not do. In junior high Gary and I learned we were pretty good fighters. Then we had football in high school, which relieved some aggressions for us.

Gary ran track in the spring. I played baseball. Joey played all sports and he was very good. Several colleges were after him, but sports didn’t bring him much satisfaction. Something in his life was missing—an admiring father. You were never in the stands cheering for him. He was only four years old when you died, and he never did learn to pretend he didn’t miss you, not the way the rest of us did.

When was the last time I visited your grave? I think it was the time I came out here, stood on the grass, and hollered at you for dying and leaving Mom and us kids. I’m sorry about the hollering. I know you didn’t ask to leave. You had no choice, Dad, but I was having marital problems at the time, and you weren’t around to support me. Children are very judgmental of their parents, aren’t they? And parents are easy to blame for things, especially when they are no longer around.

Actually, you were never around. I always resented your being at some bar drinking and singing with your friends. I hated the smell of those places every time Mom sent me in to get you. She broke your guitar once, but that didn’t keep you home. Gary has a drinking problem today, you know, and Joey does drugs, but we can’t talk to them about their addictions any more than anyone could have told you about yours.

Whew! Sorry about the outburst, Dad. What’s weird is that rage happens only when I have these talks with you. I’ve asked God to help me bear that load, and He does help . . . everywhere but here.

When you were bedridden, just before my twelfth birthday, our lives changed drastically. Your illness altered our routines, drained our energies, and added tension to our day-to-day chores. Your stomach cancer became our lives.

I prayed for you. I lit candles for you. I watched you drink that little vial of water sent from Lourdes, France, and I expected a healing, but nothing happened. Someone had a plan for you that was different from my own.

I wish our visits weren’t so short. I would like to sit down and talk with you, but there’s no bench to sit on. There’s just grass. You said to not waste any money on a grave marker because you wouldn’t be here anyway. You’d be in heaven. Maybe your children can chip in for a marker. Your final resting place will then be easy to find.

If we had more time together, I would tell you about Anne and Mary and what great people your daughters have become. All that love they missed giving you, they stored up and then poured all over their children and grandchildren. It’s beautiful to see.

Mary has become a wonderful poet. Anne hugs everybody, Dad. She would train you to hug, if you didn’t already know how. Men of your generation didn’t hug, did they?

What would it be like to meet you today? I often wonder about that. Would you hug me, Dad, or would we shake hands?

How different would my life be had you lived? Would you have kept me in school in Michigan? Would you have allowed me to join the Navy, to become a teacher, to have married when I did? One thing we could not do is have a drink together. I’m a teetotaler.

You have been gone since 1948, but to tell the truth, Dad, I never got used to your being gone. Does anyone ever get used to losing a loved one?

The grass under my shoes is soft, and I sense that your spirit is nearby. This humid Michigan air is cooling off, and as I think of a special time I had with you, Dad, I can feel myself relaxing . . .

Your black 1941 Hudson, a big bubble of a car, brought us home from school that day. You were healthy then, so I must have been ten years old. You told me to sweep the basement floor before I went out to play, although sweeping was not part of our daily routine. You also had a strange smile on your face.

I argued for sweeping the floor later. You insisted. I pounded down the wooden steps, grumbling, questioning parents, and hating that dumb old basement.

Then I caught my breath. Time stood still. At the bottom of the steps, with bright golden sunlight streaming in through the narrow basement windows, I saw it. I think I heard a choir of angels singing. The sun shone directly onto the most beautiful red bicycle in the whole history of civilization! You had brought it home from Sears for me.

An outpouring of love always follows that memory, Dad. And that’s the case today, over fifty years later.

By the way, I forgot to sweep out the basement. Sorry.

Hard feelings have now been replaced with soft ones.

We got a lot accomplished today, but I think I’ll work toward getting a marker put on your grave before my next visit. A father should be easy to find.

I have a lot more to discuss with you—my first game at Briggs Stadium, fishing off the dock in Lake St. Claire, and our trip in the Hudson back to your hometown in Kansas.

Dad, I didn’t know I could remember so many good times with you until I tried!

Let’s end this visit with the same ritual we went through to end our days when you were alive and had us pray together in the living room. Just let me put my handkerchief on the grass so that when I kneel down I won’t soil my pants. Okay.

If you will be my prayer partner, we can begin: “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”

John J. Lesjack

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