The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

June 14, 2014

Dear Dad: A letter to a long-departed father

ENID, Okla. — Dear Dad,

Long time no see. It has been more than 42 years. That doesn’t seem possible.

I went back to school that day, like you wanted me to. My college classes were finished for the week and I was on the way back to see you in the hospital.

Of course, by the time I got there, you were gone.

I was devastated, I was angry, I was bereft, it felt like my world was crumbling around me. Losing your dad is especially tough at 19.

We got through it, Mom and I. It wasn’t easy. On the flight home from your burial I prayed the plane would crash. It didn’t.

I wanted to quit school, to get a job and take care of Mom. She wouldn’t let me. She said you would have wanted me to finish school. So I did.

It wasn’t easy. I was aimless, I was lost. I started drinking, a lot. I stopped caring about anything. I stopped going to class. I was a total screw-up.

But I kept going back to some of the things you taught me, like once you start something, never quit, no matter what happens, keep trying, keep working hard, and good things will happen, you always said.

And they did. I met a girl. You’d like her, Dad. She’s sweet and funny and smart and beautiful, and she won’t let me quit anything either.

So we got married, and I finished school. I’m a writer. I know you never got to read anything I wrote professionally, just some of my schoolboy scribblings, but it’s something I enjoy. Chemistry just wasn’t my thing. We’ve done all right. We’re not rich, but we’re not poor, either.

Your grandkids are four-legged and furry, since children weren’t in God’s plan for our lives.

Through the grace of God I’ve never been in jail, never been homeless, never been linked to any scandal.

I wish we had talked more. I wish I had asked you how to deal with certain situations. Of course, most of those situations never even crossed my mind when you were still alive.

But you gave me a good foundation. You taught me patience, standing hip-deep in fast-moving, freezing water trying to coax an old brown trout to rise to a fly, trolling for northern pike or minnow-fishing for crappie.

And you taught me that patience is not easily achieved, since if I was catching fish and you weren’t, you usually wanted to move to another spot.

You taught me that anything worth doing was worth doing well. Do it right the first time, you said, and you won’t have to do it again.

You taught me anything worth having was worth working for, that hard work never killed anybody, and I could rest from my labors anytime I wanted, but nothing gets done during rest breaks.

Education was No. 1 in your book, and you taught me once you get your degree, no one can ever take it away from you. I’m afraid I didn’t share your dedication-and-drive in the classroom, but I managed get there in my own time.

You taught me that learning never stops, to always be open to new things, new ideas. We carry mini computers in our pockets now and we call them telephones. You’d love them.

You taught me a man’s word is his bond, to always tell the truth and to do what I say I will. You taught me not to steal or cheat. You taught me how to fish, to play golf, to mow grass, to shovel snow, to change a tire, to put up Christmas lights.

One string of lights I still put out every year are some you started putting up in the mid-1960s.

You weren’t big on public displays of affection, and I still struggle with that since I married into a family of huggers.

You taught me the value of a dollar. I wanted a guitar worse than anything in the world, but I didn’t have enough money for it. You bought it for me, but made me promise to pay you back. So I did, making regular payments for months until I finally repaid the debt. I still have that old guitar, I just can’t bear to part with it because of the memories it holds.

You taught me not to complain, not to whine. You kept most of your heart issues to yourself. I wish I had known.

You taught me to respect people, to treat everyone equally until they proved they didn’t deserve respect, and then to give them a wide berth.

You taught me to respect authority. The boss may not always be right, you said, but he’s the boss.

You taught me to speak when spoken to, but for the most part to keep my mouth shut. You taught me to stand when a lady comes into the room, to open the door for women, to pull their chair out for them.

You taught me to mind my own business, but when it was time to intervene, to step in with both feet.

You taught me not to take anything on face value, and not to take crap from anybody.

And you taught me that when you lose somebody you love and you think you can’t go on, can’t face another day, can’t draw another breath, you can. It won’t be easy, it will hurt, it will seem far too much to bear, but you can make it.

You taught me to be a man. I have tried to live up to your example. I hope you’d be proud.

Thank you, happy Father’s Day and say hello to Mom for me.

Love, Me

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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