From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Just a Little Bit Longer

His thick wavy hair was as white as freshly fallen snow; he more than once won the “Mr. Snowflake” title at the Senior Citizens Club. With a smile as childlike as a cherub’s, he possessed the wisdom of a modern-day Socrates. Unknown beyond his own community, the obscure humanitarian touched the lives of those close to him, warmly, like the wings of an angel.

This man could be someone familiar to you. Perhaps that cheerful neighbor who greets you with a friendly wave each time you cross paths. Or that amicable fellow who waits each morning, like clockwork, for no one in particular as he sits on a park bench. Maybe he is a member of your religious congregation, the gentleman who sits in the third pew each Sunday, greeting all with a warm “Good morning.” However you know him, he is a gentle presence, a comforting sense of kindred humanity.

Perhaps the attributes of this gentleman personify your significant childhood role model. In my case, I am blessed to refer to the soft-spoken man who held a unique and cherished spot in my heart—an altruistic and reassuring man who became the definition of what a man should aspire to be. I called him Father.

My father expressed patience and genuine regard for his fellow man through simple words and quiet actions. He was not loquacious; rather, he would sit quietly and listen attentively to friends, neighbors, and even strangers. Rarely offering platitudes or advice, he most often extended a simple but heartfelt “What can I do to help?” His sincere desire to lighten one’s burden and share another’s cross epitomized his genuine nature. It was his way of life.

As a young man, my father worked on the docks in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. His words “Just a little bit longer” encouraged his colleagues through yet another grueling day of labor. And when in a catastrophic accident a heavy load fell from a forklift and crushed the legs of his coworker, it was my father who knelt by his side while waiting for medical help, urging “Just a little bit longer, Tony.”

When as a child I suffered from pneumonia and a high fever that lasted for days, he gently whispered the soothing words, “Just a little bit longer, Freddie.”

Years later when my mother lay dying of cancer in the hospital, her breathing labored, he held her hand as the end approached and selflessly comforted, “Just a little bit longer, Stephie.”

When my father spoke the words “Just a little bit longer,” they took on a virtuous significance. They were not a hollow response a parent might use to appease an impatient child who eagerly awaits arrival at an amusement park. His words carried an unmistakable message of compassion and a willingness to lend his strength, come what may. My father’s legacy is clear: Share a cross and ease a burden whenever possible. Be willing to forge lasting bonds. Cherish relationships with others in this uncertain world. In so doing, you may envision the colors in the rainbow borne from compassion.

Several years ago, I made my last trip to visit my father. At eighty-three his health was failing. One evening as the hour grew late, he said he wanted to stay up “just a little bit longer.” We reminisced about my brothers’ and my childhood antics. He shared stories about his own mischievous youth as well as fond memories of my mother. He clearly recounted moments of triumph and strife in his life. Then he imparted his greatest piece of wisdom: “Through it all, Freddie, the only thing that matters in life is to do all the good you can, for all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

As another Father’s Day approaches, I am thankful I had the time to know my father “just a little bit longer.”

Frederick Bakowski

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