Sunday, June 16, 2013

We Get A Day, Too...and Our Band-Aids Were Dirt

Okay, so at least give me some points for creativity with titles.  I thought a great deal about the differences between mothers and fathers and yes, that was the first thing I came up with.  While many of us, as kids, ran to mom when we fell and scraped a knee or cut ourselves, they'd provide a bandage.  While it is a generalization about dads, a lot of the, "Rub some dirt on it," comments are true.  Let's face it - while moms bandaged us, dads were busy telling us to "Get back on the horse," or, "Walk it off."  We did...and life went on.  The entire thought process took me to the differences between our parents and how they are both so very deserving of their respective days.  I've heard, too, that the best writings and stories come when people are open and honest about their lives.  After the initial start to this year, I have neither hesitation nor concern about sharing anything of who I am and what led me here. tangent - this all plays into the story.

I have been blessed/cursed with three fathers in my life.  Before you start thinking this stems from an episode of Maury, it was simply a matter of life beginning in the 70's.  Divorce, and consequent remarriage, is now more natural than it was prior to that.  That's how I ended up with my personal set of fathers.  I've learned from them all, both positive and negative...and hopefully (and I think they'd agree), I have taken the negative experiences we might have had and turned them into learning life-lessons with positive outcomes for myself and my kids.

My biological father was only in my life, initially, for the first seven years.  He and my mother divorced, he remarried, then later moved out of state.  I wasn't to see him again for 15 years, with the exception of a couple of times over that span for the deaths of family members.  I remember his MG Midget and going to SCCA autocross events with him.  Perhaps the love of driving, in a not-always-so-slow fashion was ingrained in me at this early age.  I remember, too, how he'd take me along with him, on occasion, to work at the family's dairy.  For you youngsters, milk wasn't always in plastic containers at the supermarket or 7-11.  They used to deliver it to your door and place, we're getting off this part.  It's irrelevant and making me feel WAY too old.  Anyway, we spent time together that must have made an impression because I remember it to this day.  For the earlier years, I have photographic evidence that he and mom were happy, yet married too young to have a lasting relationship confined in close quarters.  As I said, they toughed it out for seven years.  In my later years, it was I who 'forced' a relationship on him.  I say forced because I believe he thought too many years had passed to have any type of relationship with me.  I, being my usual 'won't-take-no-for-an-answer' self, went to visit.  It was then that I could go to him for advice when I chose sales as a profession and golf as a hobby.  Nothing made him prouder, I don't think, than knowing I have a great career in sales and could, with unquestioned regularity, beat him on the golf course.

Mom got remarried several years later and her husband, our step-father, wanted to adopt my sister and I.  It meant we'd have the same last name as both parents which, in the early 70's was still common.  It was having a different last name that required explanation, though I spent many years (and still do) answering the, "Oh, you're John's son," questions.  The easy answer was always in the affirmative - thank you mom for marrying two men with the same name.  Piece of cake.  Anyway, I had a father figure that was there for some important milestones - learning to play baseball, buying my first car, graduating high school and college.  Honestly, it was he that reminded me of the dirt-rubbing, get back on the horse-type thoughts.  Vivid memories of standing in the back yard trying to become a better baseball player and he, only 16 years older than I (something for which to be commended alone), throwing the ball harder and harder to ensure I wouldn't be afraid to get in front of the ball.  Everything was going splendidly until.....fastball right at me.  I brought the glove down a fraction of a second too soon and the ball glanced off the pocket and webbing, landing squarely forehead.  Literally knocked me on my ass.  Hard and fast.  I'm laughing as I write this, but he says to this day it sounded like the crack of a wooden bat and I crumpled like a rag doll.  Many of you that know me are now sitting there saying, "Ohhh....that explains so much!"  There was no permanent damage.....of which we are aware. Aware. Aware.    Okay, maybe a little.  Seriously, though, my dad taught me a lot about respect for elders, when to speak in social situations, and discipline.  A LOT about discipline.  Don't get me wrong, I did my part, too.  I mean, you can't dole out discipline unless someone is screwing things up.  Enter....ME!  In all fairness, it is a Yin-Yang thing.  Can't have one without the other, right?  I remember, too, dad coming to school while I was in college and hanging out for a weekend or two.  Our relationship had evolved.

In the late 80's however, this marriage ended and mom was content to be single....somewhat.  I'm firmly convinced, too, she would be to this day had it not been for Bob.  She met what would be our...what do you call them - step-step-father?  Step-father once removed?  Hell, we just called him Bob, yet he was as much a father, and more so a grandfather, as the others.  He was a devout family man and, most importantly in that time in the life of my sister and I, he loved our mother.  He had children of his own, yet accepted us as no different.  We got to see he and mom more routinely than his own children, so it was only natural that he take that role in our lives, though he certainly did not have to.  He was there for our weddings, offered wisdom that was beyond measure, and was always good for an argument.  Please understand - when I say that, I mean argue as a lawyer argues a case.  Perhaps a better word would be debate.  What I learned most from Bob, though, was unconditional love and patience.  As I said, he might be in a heated discussion with you while debating a point, yet was always the most kind, caring, gentle person.  When I married and had a step-son, he enjoyed taking him in the surf at the beach to teach him to fish.  When my daughter was born, he cradled her in a hammock for hours.  He was a gentle giant that would give you anything he could - mostly, in the form of stellar advice - to see that your life was headed in the 'right' direction.

So there you have it.  A glimpse into the three mean I typically called on this day, Father's Day.  it was a call I actually enjoyed making to all of them.  Then, three years ago, Bob was diagnosed with lung cancer.  On a particular visit to the hospital in April, he was admitted unexpectedly.  My wife and I went to visit at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  While I worked from my mother's home, my wife stayed with Bob and mom at the hospital daily.  I was thankful for my wife, as I am certain my mother was, as she held his hand and comforted my mother until he died a few days later.  A short four months later, while headed home from a sales meeting in Washington, DC, we happened to stop our motorcycles on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a rest.  My phone rang.....and I got the news that my biological father had passed away earlier that morning unexpectedly.  Four months and one day apart, I had lost two very important influences in my life.

As I said in the beginning of this post, it hasn't been a stellar year so far concerning people I love and care about.  As many struggle with the rhyme or reason to why these things happen, I am only plagued with more questions.  A few short weeks ago, a good friend and coworker went into the hospital for a surgery that is considered almost routine at this point.  True, it was a cardiac valve replacement but, as he and I discussed, they do these every day and, while I don't believe there is ever any 'minor' surgery, I knew he'd be fine.  I was wrong.  A day after his surgery, he passed away at the age of 55.  He left a loving wife and two sons that will no longer be able to make the call I so desperately wish I could make today, too.  We cannot, but hopefully many of you can.

I'm simply saying this - many of us (okay, MOST of us) ran to our mothers when we were kids and either needed something or were hurt.  Let's face it, no matter how many times the cameras pan the sidelines of a football game, I have yet to see a player turn to the camera and thank the dude that taught him to throw the football, how to tackle, or how to pick up the cheerleader after the game.  What do they say?  "Hi, Mom!"  Guilty as charged.  Not the football player part, the 'running to mom' part.  I already did a post on moms, though, and wanted you to realize, as I have, that dad isn't always going to be there.  None of us are always going to be there, but today might be a good time to remember that, while mom was bandaging that cut or helping ease the broken heart when the cheerleader (or football player) dumped you, dad was probably at work making sure you'd have money for the mortgage or the camp or any vacations he made you sure you experienced.  Many dads can appear to be 'asleep at the wheel' during certain periods in your life - trust me, we're trying to think about how to make your lives better and easier, while planning any way we can to protect you as much as possible.  If you don't believe that, think about how many single moms there are and how we applaud their undying efforts.  Now, think about the dads doing the same thing.  There are many men that have never, nor will ever, shirk the responsibilities of having children.  They are raising their children alone, too, and deserve equal applause, along with the fathers that make sure their child support is never late.  We're fathers - a title we don't take lightly...and love every day.

I'd do anything to be able to give my dads a hug and a kiss again, to tell them I love them, to play one last round of golf with them.  I'd give anything to have one last conversation with them.  Please tell me, if dad is alive, you'll make the time today to make dad the SOLE priority when you see him or speak to him.  Treat this as what might be your last chance to say, "Happy Father's Day, Dad."  If it's not, what have you lost?  Lucky you, you get to do it again next year.  I don't...but it doesn't mean I'm going to stop reminding you.

Happy Father's Day, Pop.....thank you and I love you.

Until next time............

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