It seems like only yesterday that I sat on my dad’s lap on our patio. The sun eased itself below the horizon in the west and cicadas and tree frogs were timidly beginning their evening serenade. The warm summer breeze gently shook the pines overhead. Something triggered a memory for my dad, I can’t recall what. I had probably been asking him about his childhood. I loved hearing the stories of his often mischievous activities. I had committed a few of those type of acts myself. Dad turned out okay, so I suppose that hearing his stories made me feel better about my own escapades. Dad started to talk about his dad. My granddad died when my dad was only 21 years old.
“If only I hadn’t left the hospital, I could have gotten to say goodbye.” He said, his eyes glistening and tears filling up his laugh lines. “He died fifteen minutes after I left.” He looks down, sniffs, and looks up. He appears normal. He doesn’t burst into tears or sob uncontrollably. But inside, his heart is breaking. He is missing his dad, his friend. As a youngster of only six or seven, I am speechless. I look at my dad and see a successful, Christian man. A man with a wife who’d move heaven and Earth for him, three children, two cars, and a home with a fireplace. What more could he need or want?
Somehow, this same conversation weaves itself into my life over and over. Many times, most of which I am seated beside him, having outgrown his lap, he recalls the pain over not saying goodbye. In later years, I say in my childish innocence, “But, now you have ME! God gave you me and Melanie and Kevin. We all love you.” I wrap my arms around his neck in a strong embrace. Dad smiles with misty eyes and just says softly, “Yes, He did.” The conversation shifts onto happier topics, but the sadness lingers in the background. My granddad, the man I never met, but feel as though I knew, left his mark. I loved hearing the stories of his intelligence, his strength, his love for my grandmother and their courtship, and of course, his friendship with his only son. But none of these stories of my Granddad replace impact of his death. “It was the day I grew up.” My dad would say. To this day, I remember my Granddad on the date of his death – September 13. I remember how Granddad used to say that thirteen was his lucky number, he was born on October 13.
As I grew, my dad would often get misty-eyed, but for another reason. I was growing up. His pal. The one who rode bikes with him, went to late-late-breakfasts on Saturdays to McDonald’s, took long walks around the neighborhood, and shared his love of hot fudge milkshakes. He didn’t want me to grow up. He was afraid that I would no longer need him around or want him around. But growing up is just something a kid can’t stop doing. Even if she wants to.
Now, here I sit, early on a Saturday morning, reliving the most painful event of my life with you. I sit here, not with glistening eyes, but with actual tears trailing down both cheeks. I think about the handful I was as a child, and that I didn’t get to say to him, “I’m sorry. You deserved a better daughter.” I wasn’t there when he died, so, history repeats itself as I wonder, “What if I’d been there? I could have told him thank you; thank you for giving me my life. I will honor you. I love you.”
I often find myself outside near sunset on many a summer evening. I hear the cicadas and tree frogs humming their tune, I see the breeze blow gently through the pines and I remember that little girl sitting on her dad’s lap. And I wish I could have said goodbye.