Its been four years this July since my father has passed away. I bring
this up because something extraordinary happened to me this morning and I have to share it with someone. The best place to start I guess is to let you know a little bit about my dad. My father was a hard man. By hard I mean he was old-school
MAN. He worked hard to provide for our family and disciplined hard to make sure
his three sons stayed in line. Not a lot of touchy-feely emotions going on. My dad was a boiler maker for Chicago Bridge & Iron and traveled all over
the country welding for the company. This had two impacts on our family. One, by the time I was ten, I had lived in ten different states. And two, he would sometimes be gone for extended amounts of time leaving my mother home alone with my brothers
and myself. As a grown man, I came to blame the moving for my inability
to developed and maintain any real relationships. I learned to blend in quickly
but never give too much of myself, become attached, because in less than a year I knew we would be moving on. So, many times I resented my father for not having a job where we could stay in one spot. Where most kids have memories of grade schools and close friendships, at the age of 29, I honestly can't
describe for you one person, student or teacher, that I can remember from that time.
I just remember a blur of towns and homes filled with unpacked boxes. Both
my father and mother were smart people, but as was the case very often in their generation, got married right out of high
school and started having kids. Dad was a great football player and had scholarships
to go to college, but with a family to support, didn't. Mom, a very good
student, ballooned with three consecutive children, fell into the role of homemaker and mother. I was a stubborn child, hard to control. Mom did what she
could with me but I was just defiant by nature. She now tells me of a story where
I was told to stay off the newly waxed kitchen floor and immediately ran to the kitchen to place my footprint in the tacky
goo. She beat my behind only to have me run and do it again. She doesn't remember how many times she hit me, but each time I would run to the kitchen and step on the
floor. Mom does remember that this went on so long that she began to feel guilty
about hitting me so hard and often. She remembers the swollen red buns of a seven
year old. More and more of these stories were told each year as I grew to a man,
married and started my own family. Stories of running away, never really though
because she would always find me hiding in some part of our own yard. Stories of slapping my hand for picking in food before
it was served, and an explanation of how this annoying habit led to the two flat scars on my knuckles from where she, in desperation,
stuck a fork in my hand. Left alone for weeks on end to raise three boys is trying
enough, but when one has a child such as me, and money was always tight, where she too had no close friends, no family to
help, no adults to talk with, share with, laugh with.. Well, let's just say I
hold no grudges against mom. Dad would of course hear of my behavior when
he returned and out of love for mom felt it was his obligation to put the fear of God in me while he was home so I would act
better when he wasn't. And I was afraid when dad came home. My memories of him are of stinging belts, hiding magazines in my flannel pajamas to cushion the swats,
and crying behind a locked door screaming, " I wont ever do it again!" As I grew
up I put away the magazines and stopped crying. I remember my father hitting
me as I remained stoic. I would never let him or anyone see me cry again, and
I never did, until this morning.
I called mom this morning and told her I was looking for my old catchers mitt from when I was a kid. She was at work but told me to run by the house and go through dad's woodshop. She claimed if it was anywhere, which she said it probably wouldnt be, it would be in the big stack of
boxes in one of the corners. When I arrived at the house, I felt very odd going
into his shop. The shop is where he would go and disappear for hours. He was not to be disturbed there even when we were adults. We
would never know what magic was going on behind the doors until Christmas arrived. A
wooden training potty in the shape of a skunk for my son, a rocking horse for nephew, a jewelry cabinet for my wife, a hat
rack for me. Every year something new made by his own hands. He would sit silent in his worn recliner by the oversized cedar burdened with homemade ornaments; a satisfied
grin on his face.
As I entered the shop I saw the boxes, sloppily stacked in the far corner. Years
of gravity had worn them into misshapen cubes which looked to be easily toppled if a breath disturbed the dust that seemed
to glue them together. Box by box I dug into the contents until I found my mitt. Dad had bought if for me when I was eleven.
By this time he had quit working as a boiler maker and had taken a job for far less money in a small town as a mechanic. I don't really know why, but guessed it was so we could have some stability; so he could be home to help mom out. Somehow,
I always believed my misbehavior had something to do with the decision to settle down.
From age eleven until I graduated high school my father coached my summer baseball team. Not really a great feat unless you knew he also did the same for both my other brothers, and did so while
working a job that forced him to do hard labor for 60 hours a week. He never
complained, but would come straight from work, covered in grease to put in another two hours with his children. Dad liked fishing and hunting as did my other two brothers. But
I didn't. I told my father I was moving to Hollywood after high school to
become and actor. He never could quite understand me but we both liked baseball. It was our only bond at the time. On
the ball team, he never treated me special as his son. In fact, I might as well
belonged to another family. He would never think of being unfair by showing me
favoritism. The only way you could tell I was his son was that if someone needed
to set out an inning so others could play, I was always chosen. It wasn't that
I was a bad ballplayer, quite the opposite, but rather he figured as his son I was the one man enough to take it, to do the right thing, suffer for the common good, because, by God, I was his son and that
is what he would do.
I slipped my left hand into the stiff leather and pounded the pocket with my fist exploding dust. My six year old son would think this was pretty cool. He
was two when dad passed and I don't think he even remembers him. As I turned
to leave the shop my pant leg caught on the edge of a 2X4 sticking out from beneath the table saw and a stack of wood scrambled
to the floor. Reaching down to pick up the mess, my eyes fell upon a video
cassette in a cardboard case lying atop the scattered rubble. I lifted the cassette
and pulled it from the case, written in lead from a carpenter's pencil, in my father's handwriting were the thick, smudged
words, PLAY THIS AT MY FUNERAL. I stood, unable to breathe. Emotions crashed inside me blending together into an indistinguishable
Moments later I found myself in front of my mom's TV with a shaking hand feeding the tape into the mouth of the VCR. Within seconds I was staring face to face with my father.
Well, if you are watching this I'm dead...