Like any red-blooded American man I struggled to hold back the tears upon the news of my fathers death. After all cancer had been killing him for 5 years, and I knew he would one day take his place along with his brothers and sisters who had fallen to this all too familiar fate. It seemed so predictable. I had plenty of time to set things right with dad, but there was nothing wrong, so I did nothing.
I'm one of the lucky ones. My dad told me he loved me often. My dad frequently showed his love for me with a big hug or a kiss to the cheek. My father loved my wife and my son unconditionally and often spoke of how proud he was of me. I always thought my father was, like everyone told me, a man worthy of respect and honor, a loyal honest man who put the needs of others before those of his own. I felt like I was the problem. I had no interest in the Masonic lodge which my father had been a member for decades, I felt the Baptist faith didn't ring true for me and that its harsh judgemental God didn't seem to fit the image I held for God. I believed in the virtues upheld by my Dad, but I had my own individual way of practicing my beliefs. Since my dad was such a great man (and he was!) and I wasn't like my dad then I must be a poor son. Even the many positive things I received from my dad didn't hold a candle to the feeling that I was somehow less than what he hoped for.
Six years after his death and I'm still trying to find a sense of calm and happiness that has seemed to escape me as long as I can remember. I have many happy times but I cannot call myself happy. My search has led me to the father-son relationship. All that I read and learned seemed to do a good job of pointing out the ways in which he failed me. Now 6 years after his death I am learning of another death to grieve, the death of my image of my father. You see, I now see that my father was human like me. He had his pains and anxieties, his sadness and dissapointments, and his world on his shoulders. I've found these things through talks with my mom, and reading his letters to her, and piecing together his life through letters to my mom from his friends after he died recounting what he meant to them and how he had fought so hard to better himself. I now know that he gave me the best he had to offer. He tried to shield me from the hurt and pain of being caring and compassionate by projecting the hard working, emotionally stable, Christian image and never let me see the real man inside. That's the man I wanted to know. That's the man I needed to know. That's the man who would have told me that each man must find his own path and that he had shared his with me and now I should search for my own path. Learn from his successes and failures as I move forward on my own with his support and faith in me as an individual.
I honor the man who sacrificed so much for me. I cry for the relationship we never had and the opportunities gone by.