People often talk about moments that are life changing. Sometimes they talk of seminal events in History, like the assassination of JFK, The Challenger accident, and 9/11. For others it is a moment that is personal to them, but which changes forever the course of their life. Forty-five years ago today, that moment came for me.
It was 1968. I was nearing the end of my Kindergarten year in school. It was May, and the flowers were blooming and outdoor time had come back after the long winter. Along my driveway the forsythia bushes were in their full, yellow bloom.
I was home from school and I remember thinking it odd that there was a car in the driveway. My parents didn’t own a car, and there shouldn’t be an afternoon visitor. Just like this year, May 14th fell on a Tuesday. I wandered to the dining room, curious to see what was going on. The concern on my mother’s face was immediately recognizable. My dad sat slumped over the kitchen table, and she was on the phone, not to EMS, but to my uncle. I was shooed away.
A short time later my uncle took my dad and mom to the hospital that was not two miles away. I learned later that my dad had suffered a heart attack at work. This was before the days of 911 calls, and paramedics rushing to the scene. A friend simply drove him home. Then, a time later, my uncle drove him to the hospital. No sirens, no paramedics. My dad died that day, on this date, in 1968.
That day, that moment, set my life on a path that would never be the same again. In an instant I went from the youngest of four children with two parents, to being the baby of the family, with a widowed mother. Within a few short years, I was the only child left at home. Growing up much more like an only child, with young aunts and uncles, than a youngest sibling.
In my most honest moments I will tell you that I really don’t remember much about my dad. After all, I was only six-years-old, and hadn’t had time to build the wealth of memories my older siblings had. I know that my dad was an artist and a poet. Among my most treasured possessions are copies of his works of poetry, written to my mother. I also have a few of his many sketches. Sadly, most of them were likely lost to the trash as nothing more than doodling, but a few remain. I like to think that my modest skills of photography and writing are his legacy alive in me.
My dad was a blue-collar worker. He knew the satisfaction of doing things with his hands. Sadly, I didn’t pick up his aptitude for things mechanical, and I have a tremendous respect for those that do. But, I did learn to value the workings of my hands. My family laughs at the things I have built, mostly because they are completely utilitarian and usually over-engineered. But, I built them with the pride my dad had in his work.
My dad was a tinkerer. Many are the stories of how he seemingly always had a television apart on the dining room table, working on the tubes to try to make the picture better. I have watched, with pride, as my sons have done the exact same thing on the kitchen table assembling and upgrading computers, including the one I am using today.
Many times I have thought about how my life would have been had he not died on that fresh spring day. But, that is fool’s folly. The fact is that the path of my life is what it is. So, today…instead of wondering about what may have been, I tip my hat, and raise my glass to my dad. Thank you, dad, for helping bring your “bonus buck” into the world.
Father’s day will soon be upon us, and Mother’s day is near in the rear view. In this season of parental honoring, take the time to reflect on how your parents have influenced your life. But, I challenge you to look beyond the obvious, and look for those subtle ways that you reflect their image.