Learn From Your Dad

What do you talk about with a man you know who’s about to die?

Our conversation aren’t abstract, they aren’t philosophical discussions on how things should be or how the world should work, or our wishes and wants, but about memories. They’re about the Cowboys of the 90s and watching them beat the Pittsburg Steelers in Superbowl XXX. They’re about him picking me up after school when I got in a fight. They’re about things we did together, about what he taught and instilled into his young son years ago.

His body is frail. He’s not the same man he was all those years ago. He’s better. He’s learned, acknowledged his failings; righted his wrongs. He knows he’s about to die, I suspect. He reminds me of that each time we meet. He tells me about the secret zavings he has stowed away for mom – if invested well she can retire three years early. Of that, he’s proud. He loves her, though they constantly quarrel and argue over the most trivial of things. Reminds me of myself. He gives me encouragements and advice. He let’s me know where he failed; shows me where to turn right where he turned left.

My life isn’t how I’d thought it’d be. I didn’t take his advice until age crept up. I thought I’d be in my 20s forever. I’d still be taking classes, learning to write, and finding “the one.” Oh how much time I’ve wasted on fruitless endeavors. I thought I found “the one” a thousand times over. My heart has the scars to prove it. I went home, called my parents; let them know my ex wasn’t her. She wasn’t “the one.”

We chopped wood yesterday. He got tired faster than he used to. Couldn’t carry as much neither. We’d walk together from the uncut wood to the slowly building pile of cut wood strewn about in stacks. It was getting cold. He’d have to go inside and warm up every so often. His body doesn’t keep in heat like it used to.

Then made our way with the axe chainsaw in the wheelbarrow to the shed and stack ’em up inside when we finished. Then I’d carry a stack of wood inside and he’d carry a smaller one and we’d start the fire. He told me about his Longhorns and how they were doing. We used to watch them together growing up. Then I moved away. I got too busy to keep up with them but he didn’t. I wish I did. We’d have more to talk about that way.

“Dad, I just can’t seem to find anyone anymore. When I do, they don’t reciprocate the feelings I have for them.”

“That’s all right son. Just focus on doing what’s best. Focus on what’s right. God’ll bring the right one along in His due time.”

I wanted to say “I wish His timing were faster” but I didn’t want to question God in front of my dad, jokingly or not.

“You don’t joke about such things,” he’d tell me. “You can joke about just about anything, but don’t joke about God.”

The fire was going. The heat began to fight back the cold which soon began to be relegated to the far corners of the single-story brick house. It was getting dark. He drew the curtains closed. We lived outside town a good ways and although we knew our neighbors, small Texas towns seemed to be getting hit by meth harder than others.

“You have to watch out,” he said. He kept a loaded gun in his closet just in case. He was a good shot in the Army, but prayed he’d never have to show his skills again before he died.

He’d tell me about growing up down south in the 40s and 50s and about never locking the doors. And I believe it. He’s my dad, why would he lie? He misses his parents, and so do I. They died when I was young, but they lived long enough to make an impression on a ten-year-old boy. We sat and drank a beer together next to the fireplace and he told me the story of how they met. It was the only story of love at first sight I’ve heard. Almost unbelievable, but I believe it. He’s my dad, why would he lie?

He was tired so he went to bed. I stayed up and walked around the house. Studied pictures hanging on the wall in the hallway that felt a lot longer when I was a boy. Memories. Each photograph told me a story. Some I’d lived, some I’d been told. I try to remember them so I can pass them on to my kids, if I ever meet “the one.”

The next day the sun crept through the curtains of the room where I slept. It used to be mine. Then it was my sister’s. Now it’s for guests.

He’s already up. I can hear the coffee pot dripping. He makes good coffee. Better than I do even though he buys the generic kind. I can’t seem to get the proportions right on mine. We read our Bibles and sip our coffee. He reads the King James Version. I read a newer one. But it still means the same.

“I have to leave in about an hour. Can’t be late for my church.”

“I understand. When do you think you’ll be back this way?”

“Month or two I suppose.”

“Make it a month and we’ll be square.”

“I will, dad.”

“I finished my cup and my reading for the day, then gathered my things and went on my way. But not before I said goodbye to my mother and father. I hugged my mom and shook my dad’s hand.

I’m a momma’s boy actually, always have been and I suspect always will; yet I love them both the same. But my mom’s much younger than my dad, and my dad’s getting old.

Funny how age makes you dwell more on death.

I’m not as good as my dad, but that’s no fault of his. He has his failings, but he gave me everything I needed. I try and listen more, even when he repeats himself – his memory isn’t what it used to be and he’ll be the first to admit it. He still has much to teach and I still have much to learn. He taught me about God, family, forgiveness, values, hard work, and repentance. Some have stuck, others still need sticking to. But I’m learning, I’m trying to listen, as I’ve said before.

So when he passes I don’t want to be left regretting and saying “if only I’d listened more.”

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