Twelve years ago today, I said goodbye to my dad. He was a strong, hardworking man who was dedicated to taking care of his family. Like so many men of that generation, he wasn’t an emotionally involved dad. Until his deathbed, he never told me he loved me and he only said it then because I told him I’d never heard him say it. His response was, “you know I love you”.
I learned a lot from my dad. His hard work and determination to provide for our family was a driving force in his life. I cannot remember a time when he didn’t work two jobs, sometimes 3. He would leave for work before we woke up in the morning and many days we were fast asleep in our beds before he came home. His hard work allowed my mom to stay home with us. We always had a spotless home and home cooked meals. My mom made all of our clothes, and provided transportation to all of our activities – dance classes, bowling leagues, girl scouts, etc.
My dad joined the Army at the age of 17. He was in WWII and the Korean War, spent time in Japan, and was in Palestine when it was liberated. He never spoke of his military career until his last days. He spent 22 years in the Army and then was a part of the reserves for another decade. He was a Marion County Sheriff and after his retirement from the department, he worked as a deputy coroner.
His most important job was being a Grandpa. My son Matthew was born on March 16, 1985. Matthew had a rough start, spending most of his first month in the hospital. My dad decided to retire from the Sheriff’s department to watch Matthew so I could go back to work. He said that he didn’t want his grandson to go to daycare. This was such a relief for me because I knew that he would be taken care of and that he would receive his medication on time. This hard exterior of a man melted every morning when I would drop Matthew off – complete with breast milk bottles and cloth diapers. He would watch him, feed him, play with him and rinse out cloth diapers. He did this for about a year before my mom retired as a legal secretary. Then, they both took great joy in spoiling and loving him.
As my sons grew, my dad taught them how to build things in the garage and how to cut the yard (later hiring them to keep his yard manicured and paying them with homemade goodies created by my mom). Dad would take Matthew to meet his retired friends at the local donut shop (I know – cops and donuts). This is where Matthew learned to hold a conversation with any adult he met. It was common for me to pick up Matthew after work and hear that he had been to the jail that day while dad visited with his friends who were still on the sheriffs department. Dad taught our boys responsibility. He instilled the importance of hard work. Most importantly, although he did not say it, he loved them.
I think we take those we love for granted until they are gone. I would love to have another chance for a conversation with him. In the 30 days prior to his death, my brother and I took turns spending the night with him. I cherish those memories when we’d start a conversation at 11 pm and talk until 3 am. It wasn’t until those conversations that I learned that he had been a POW. He described how he and the soldier he was imprisoned with plotted to overtake their captors by beheading them. They spent several days in the jungle before being rescued by United States soldiers.
I have tried to parent differently than my dad by constantly telling my sons how much I love them, but trying to instill the same values that my dad instilled in me. My boys are incredible men with a great work ethic. I only hope that Dad is looking down from Heaven and that he is proud.