Here was my tweet in response to the one from AARP asking us to write about our Fathers in 140 characters or less. Trust me, it was a challenge to be so brief about a man I cared so much.
Here’s the story behind that brief statement…
Dad started losing his memory in about 1995. It certainly started sooner but that’s when it really hit and he would only have brief moments of lucidness. About that time I realized that I was nearing forty years old and still had no children. That meant I had no one to pass along the huge amounts of love that he had given to me. I couldn’t let his legacy end with me. I wanted a son to hand it down to.
You see, Dad was a very complicated person who’d lived a very complicated life but all through my time with him I knew one thing: He loved me. I never doubted that, even when he’d lose his temper because I’d done something stupid. I did a stupid thing. I wasn’t a stupid person. His words to me after he cooled down were “It’s all over and done with”. My punishment was at an end. Things were back as they were and I was in his good graces.
At ten years old he was dropped off by his mother at her parent’s home and was raised by his grandfather. It was 1930 and times were desperate. His recently divorced mother couldn’t afford to raise him by herself and her parents had a farm so she knew he’d be well taken care of. He was hurt by his mother’s abandonment but any pain was eased by a loving home with his grandfather. Dad loved his grandfather dearly and from the stories he told me, it’s apparent that’s where he got all the love he had to pass along to me.
In 1940, when he was 20, he got into some trouble flying his kit plane that he and his grandfather had built together by landing at what is now Detroit Airport. He had no license and his plane wasn’t registered. The judge told him to join the Army Air Corp and he did. He rose rapidly through the ranks from airman to sergeant. In 1941, with the war needing officers, he attended office training and became a lieutenant. In a short time, he was the pilot of a B-25 in the Pacific theater. He told me many stories about those times but it was the technology that mostly impressed him. His plane was one of those fitted in the field with a cannon that, when fired, would rock his plane and drop the airspeed to almost zero. I wasn’t sure he was telling all the truth about that one until many years later I read about it in a book about the B-25 Mitchell Bomber.
After the war he left the Air Force, got a college degree under the VA, and worked as an architect for a while. He wanted to save up and open a hardware store but with two children and me on the way, he reasoned that returning to the Air Force was a better idea. He was assigned to logistics as the supply officer for a base in Texas. Being in charge of the warehouses for an entire Air Force base was like having a huge hardware store. He loved it and it was his career for the next quarter century.
Dad was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors complete with the horse-drawn caisson, military escort, band, 21 gun salute, taps, and the flag that he fought under for three wars. He was a hero to his country but he was, more importantly, a hero to me.
It was the love he showed me growing up that got me to consider having children very late in life. As he faded away from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, I reaized I had no one to pass that love along to. No one to tell all the stories he’d told me, no one to look up to me as I looked up to him, no one to comfort as he had comforted me. I adopted a ten year old boy. It took three years to accomplish but I got it done and so now I had a son to be a Dad to.
I took my son to visit his new grandfather but the life was gone from his dark, blank eyes. He couldn’t communicate with his grandson but it was important for me to have my son see the man that had given me so much life and love. I wanted him to have a picture in his mind of the person of whom would I speak so much and so often about. I hoped that gradually the mannequin-like figure of Grandfather would take life in his mind as Dad was in my mind. My stories would give him life as Dad’s stories gave life to the grandfather and great-grandfather I had never met.
So now my father lives in my memory and, on this Father’s Day, I honor him and do what I can to pass along to my son what he gave me. Occasionally, I come upon something that reminds me of Dad and I make it a point to explain its significance to my son so Dad’s legacy continues. Someday, he’ll appreciate his grandfather as he does his Dad and my life will passed along to his child and the cycle will continue. That is the special bond between my father and his son and I hope it continues with mine. I think that’s the importance of Father’s Day; to remember our own Fathers and as a reminder to be a good, loving Father.