Thirty-two years ago. A lifetime. But not even a lifetime. Thirty-two years ago today my father died. He left behind a young wife and two young sons and a lifetime of “what ifs.”
And thirty-two years ago, my mother had the presence of mind to write down the details in my brother’s baby book. It reads:
“Aug. 16, 1977 Benjamins and Matt’s daddy died tonight at about 7:30 p.m. He had bought a 1942 dump truck. He was going to start his own hauling business to make extra money for his family. He picked up the truck about 5:30 p.m. at Rancho Lynn in Corralitos. He drove it back to Aromas and took it up to Seely Ave to have Rick and Pam Fischer look at it. He knew the breaks were bad. But he thought he could make it in 1st gear down their driveway. Well he couldn’t. He tried to jump out and I’m not sure what caused his death. He died enroute to the hospital. Elvis Presley died the same day. I loved him. Sept. 1st would have been our 9th anniversary.”
Since this is my de-facto baby book, I wanted to write to my own children about this significant event in my life.
Dear Swee’Pea and TheMonk,
This week, for some interesting reason, you began asking me about my father. Especially you, Monk, and I could tell that the questions were being asked for more than general knowledge. You asked how he died. You asked why he died. You asked what happened to him after he died. And in the back of your mind, as you digested my answers (which I tried to do in an honest, yet gentle, way), I could tell that what you were really asking was, “Daddy, are you going to die?”
And that, my son, is my greatest fear. You are too young to explain how my entire life has been shaped by my father dying. You are too young to understand that the reason I am so devoted to you and your sister is that I want every. moment. to. count. I want you to know that, even if I were to die tomorrow, being your Daddy is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have written about this topic a few times and once even wrote a letter to my own father but when it comes to explaining death and looking into your eyes and seeing the confusion and the fear that you won’t be with me anymore makes my heart ache for you… and for me.
And as I told you this week, yes, I will die. But my fervent hope is that I will die someday in the future when you are confident enough to travel on this journey without needing the guidance of your father. I don’t want you, Monkey, to grow up wondering what it means to be a man. I don’t want you growing up having to figure out how to hold a hammer or how to shave your face or how to ask a girl out on a date. And, Swee’Pea, I don’t want you growing up wanting something from a man and searching in vain because you didn’t get it from me. I pray that by the time I die you will both miss me but not really need me.
I want to tell you how much I love you. I want to tell you that when I look down at your face as you are looking up at mine, I see your future and how very much I want to be a part of that. And I think of my own father and how much he missed and I am sad for him while my own heart aches from a hurt that never really goes away. I am reminded that my father wasn’t there to see my first hit in baseball. He wasn’t there to hear about my first crush. He wasn’t the one to teach me to drive or celebrate my running victories. He wasn’t there to see me graduate from high school or college or graduate school. He wasn’t there to see me get married or to see your beautiful faces for the first time. He missed so, so much. And my worst fear in the world is that I will miss those too.
And as tears stream down my face as I type this and the words are blurred as they appear on my screen, all I can tell myself, and tell you, is that I will do my best to be here for you. I will do everything I can to make sure that I wake up to be with you and share your life with you and guide you in ways that I never had. I want to teach you the joy of love and the comfort of humor and the mystery of the infield fly rule. I want to watch over you and help you grow into confident adults who know their father loves them and is their biggest fan. I want that for you. And I want that for me.
Death is the one certainty of life, my little ones. We don’t know when we will go and that makes it so much more important to embrace each day as the gift it is. I try not to forget that. It is why I am an optimist. It is why I will dance with you when you take the lead and it is why I probably say yes too often and no not enough. But it’s also why I say no when I really want to say yes and I say yes when I really want to say no. I want you to have what I lost thirty-two years ago today. I want you to have the comfort of knowing your father and knowing that he will love you and cherish you forever.
My brother and I both wrote on this topic today. Please read his post as well.