They Said It Better Than I Ever Could...


These words that I write, they keep me from total insanity. -Charles Bukowski

Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed? -Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Jul 4, 2010

Dear Dad...

I couldn't help but dread this day.

I know its you, and I'm your son, and you love me.  But given the rather strange relationship that you and I have had, I couldn't help but be a tad apprehensive about writing this.

I would hope that if you were here you would've told me, "Man up, and get it done boy."

But there's the hitch.  You're not here.

You haven't been.  Not since I was three.  I turn 32 in three days.

TJ was still in the oven, and I was too young to know which side of the playpen smelled the worst, and you took off.

Don't worry, I'm not mad at you.  How could I be?  I'm pretty sure that if you had anything to say about it you'd still be here.  But that wasn't meant to be.

I'll be honest, it hurt.  It hurt quite a bit.  Not at first.  C'mon I was three.  I didn't know what the hell was going on.  Best I can figure the only thing that I understood was that mom was pretty sad, and she stayed like that for a long time.  I'm not sure she's come out of that yet.  As a matter of fact, I know she hasn't.

Well then things were okay for a while.  Young kid like that doesn't understand death.  I remember Mom telling me about how she had to have Grandpa take your car away because I would see it and say, "Daddy's home, see Mommy there's his car."

Then I got older.

I began to understand what happened.  I learned just how much different things were going to be for me than they were for all the other kids.  I gotta admit, here is one of the few times that I can say that I'm glad you died.  You see, when I got older and met all the kids who didn't have fathers it was always the same thing with them.  Their father's left.  Divorced the mom, and took off.  Never giving a second thought to their kids.  You died.  

Which made it easier for me.  At least you didn't choose to leave me.  I can take solace in that.

Growing up without you meant pretty much one thing to me.  That all this "man" stuff I was going to have to figure out on my own.  Which truly sucked.  I was going to have to learn how to be a man without a man to show me how.  For that, I hated...not you, but your death.

I could go on and on about how I tried to learn without a teacher.  But I'm pretty sure you know all that already.  

But later on I realized that you left me with more than a lot of kids have.  You left me with the stories.  You left me with a gaggle of women that loved you more than life itself and thought that you walked on water.  I heard about you every day.

I heard how much you loved the mom.

I heard how good you were to the family.

I heard how dearly you loved me.

I heard how excited you were when I was born and when you found out TJ was coming.

I heard about how you worked two jobs so that mom didn't have to work.

I heard about it all.

Couple of my favorite stories.

-The mom was an avid bowler when I was a kid.  She was good too.  She went on a bowling trip where she had to stay in a hotel overnight.  When she came home the next evening it was getting late and it was past my infant bedtime by the time she got home.  She came into the house to find you sleeping soundly on the floor right next to my crib.  She woke you up, and asked you why you were sleeping there.  To which you replied, "I was afraid I wouldn't hear him crying if he needed me."

-The mom was pregnant with me and her, you and Auntie Buddie went to a restaurant/bar to eat.  It was crowded.  You politely asked a guy to give up his seat so that mom could sit down.  He refused.  You asked him politely again.  He refused again and said something very rude about mom.  At which point you grabbed him by his collar and threw him out the front door and down the stairs leading into the place.  (That made me very happy.)

-You worked weird hours when I was a baby.  So a lot of the time I would be sleeping when you came home from work.  You would go into my bedroom and look in on me.  Now you didn't know it, but mom was watching you.  Because you would gently nudge me awake and I would fuss or maybe cry a little and you would call out to mom, "The baby's awake, don't worry I got him."  And then you would sit and rock me back to sleep.

Those are some of my favorites.

But time waits for no man, especially a dead one.

I grew up.  Had a few years in the middle there where things got pretty tough.  Had my issues with drinking, had my issues with drugs, had my issues with gambling.  I pretty much just took everything I loved, doused it in kerosene and watched it burn.  Not the most pride-inducing part of my life.

But I got over it.  Joined the Army.  Became an MP, just like you.

Went to college, which is what mom always wanted.  You should've seen the look on her face as she watched me walk across that stage.  Totally worth every paper I ever wrote.

And now I'm here.  Few other things happened in between and you and everyone else that might be reading this knows all about them.

But why dread this day?

Well that's a simple one.  I've never quite made my peace with you, and your death.

I wrote a while back about how I'm always asked why I do what I do...

To which I replied, 

My father...

You see my father passed away when I was three years old and my brother was still a bun in the oven. His death destroyed at least one life and completely altered the course of mine.

Instead of being a solidly middle class family, with the resources and comforts of that standing, my family slipped to what I would describe as upper working class. Where my mother constantly struggled to make ends meet and keep us in the house where we grew up and make sure that our lives were as stable as possible. (She pulled it off.)

Needless to say, I didn't have everything I wanted growing up, but I had everything I needed. Even though I was somewhat of a spoiled brat of a kid. But that doesn't really matter as far as all this is concerned.

What does matter is the stories that I heard about my father. I never heard a person speak ill of my father, never, not once. I met people throughout my life that knew my father, whether they be friends of his, ex-coworkers, or whoever and not a one of them ever had a derogatory thing to say about the man. In fact, they all had at least one or two stories about what a wonderful man my father was.

Then there was my family. My cousins, my aunts, uncles, and mother. These people, without even realizing that they were doing it, implanted in my brother and I an impossible standard of what it is to be a man, through the stories they would tell us about my father.

If you took my family and my father's friends at their word, (and I did and still do) my father was Zeus and could walk on water, eat bullets, and shit ice cream!

So that leads me to what that did to me. I have always thought of my life as this big ole' stairwell that I am walking up. Each step is another epoch in my life. School, sports, girls, work, college, the military, marriage, divorce, all of that, just another step.

Now there has always been someone walking up that stairwell in front of me. If you guessed my dear old daddy, then get yourself a cookie. He has always been walking up in front of me, pulling me at times, showing me the way. Looking back in disgust and picking me up off my ass at other times. But always in front of me. Never behind and certainly never even with me.

Now my father was a Vietnam veteran and a devout husband, and father and also a police officer. Which easily explains my habit of getting into law enforcement jobs even though I absolutely despise authority in all its forms. But right now we are dealing with the veteran part of the equation.

Maybe in some small measure I think that by doing what I do, and going where I have gone, and am going that maybe someday I will be able to look at my side and see my father as opposed to always having to look up in front to see him.

I don't ever want to be ahead of him, no son ever wants to eclipse their father, no son worth their salt anyway. But I do want to be able to look him in the eye and walk next to him as an equal. 

Its funny too, because anyone who knew my father would tell you that, he would have told me a long time ago to get out of this shit. He would never have wanted me to go into harms way, he would've been proud of me but he never would've wanted this. I just can't seem to escape the fact that I have never seen myself as an equal to my father. I still, after all I have done and been through, have an unrelenting need to prove myself to a dead guy.

My brother (who is a lot smarter than people give him credit for) said it the best, "Dude, you have been chasing a ghost since we were kids." And I ain't Bill Murray and this isn't Ghostbusters so chances are real good that I am never going to catch that ghost.

So that's it, that's why I do what I do. I still have something to prove to someone who's approval I can never get, no matter how hard I try...

Yep, that's what I wrote August 14, 2008 at 5:32 a.m.

That was a month or so prior to me landing in Afghanistan.

But I was right when I said that you're a ghost that I can't catch.

No matter how hard or fast I run, I'll never be able to catch your ghost.  And I know that you wouldn't want me to.

You'd want me to be who I am, and be the man that I'm supposed to be.

It may have taken me 29 years, but after I dropped that medal off at your grave I can't explain it, but it just kind of felt like we were even.  I don't know why, but that's just what I felt.

You managed to teach me to be a man without even being around, just by listening to everyone talk about you I knew what a man was supposed to be.

I don't know where I am going from here.  I don't know what the future holds.  But I do know that you loved me, and you are proud of the man I've become.  Whether you can tell me or not.

So every morning I wake up and walk over to the dresser and I see your policeman's badge and your picture on the mirror, and I see myself in you.  Or maybe the other way around.  But the fact of that matter is I am 50% mom, and 50% you.  And those are good odds for any guy to have on his side.

Don't worry about me Dad.  I've got a pretty good handle on things.

But feel free to look in on the mom from time to time if you can.  Say hello, because she misses you more than I could ever tell you.  But I'm sure you knew that already.

So thanks for being who you were so that I knew what I should be.

Thanks for loving mom the way you did.

Thanks for leaving me with all those stories.  

Someday we'll sit down and have a beer or two and talk about all of this.  But until then I'm going to do the best I can.  And regardless of what happens, about the only thing that I hope for is that you're proud of me.

I'm done now.

Later,

I love you...Dad.


Father
Son











Sometimes at night Dad, I can see you in the moonlight.  I know you are there w/ me and I can feel you in my heart.  Please, father help me along, make me strong so I can make you proud.

Love, 

Dan

(What I wrote on the back of my father's picture.)

10 comments:

  1. You did it...

    and it's a wonderful letter.

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  2. That was a very touching post. You're a special kind of guy any parent would be proud to call their son.

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  3. I've read this post twice....cried twice...
    ~AM

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  4. This is an insightful and heartfelt post. Your mum is a saint! And you are such a strong character to have overcome so many obstacles to find yourself where you are today.

    And you look so much like your dad.. very handsome :)

    D

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  5. Hi: Odd that this was your post today. My dad was killed in an auto accident when I was 8. Just today I was talking about him and explaining that I attribute my sanity to the fact that I knew he loved me and that I was important to him. Sad to say my mother was lacking in the qualities that your mother radiated. Knowing your father loves you is so very important to righting the ship when the storms hit and it appears you are about to run up on the beach. I had memory of my father - for which I am grateful - as no one in my family, mother included, ever said anything good, bad or indifferent about him. Your family is an added blessing in sharing the stories that you keep treasured in your heart. In many respects it gives him more depth as he is shaped by the life he shared with them as well. I am old enough to be your mother but the shared experience of a lost father puts us both back as sad children bereft of strong arms to physically carry and lead us along life's difficult path. Your letter is a tribute to a wonderful man who lives on in you. I am certain he looks on with pride in the man you have become. Also thank you for the independence you stand in the gap to keep for us all. with much love

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  6. I was never close to my Dad or had a close relationship. Hee died over 20 years ago. I do know one thing I am a great Dad to my girls and show them what a real man is in there lives. I show them by the way I love there Mom and give her the respect she deserves. Thanks for the post it was great. Your Dad left you a great inheritance and you did not know him well. That is a great Dad.

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  7. Marines don't cry so I didn't (wink wink) but I almost did while I read this. Not because it made me sad, but happy and proud of you for what you've overcome and where you stand today. Very moving. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. awesome. sorry to be late, but I got to hug my middle son goodbye on my birthday (July 3) as he deploys to Afghanistan. His first deployment. We are having fun spoiling his wife and dog, and buying stuff for the baby due in January. Thank you for that beautiful post. Thank you. Thank you.

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  9. Thanks for the reminder to always let my sons know how proud I am of the fine men they've grown to be.

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