My father died one year ago today. On purpose or not I was too busy to think much about it today, but I do miss him. I don’t miss the 2 hour drive to go visit him, but I miss knowing he was there even if he often drove me and my sisters crazy. My dad and I were never very close, but in his later years I learned to accept him and forgive him for the things that bothered me about his attitude toward life. He was too rigid and authoritarian – maybe things I haven’t accepted in myself? We didn’t agree on theology or politics or child rearing philosophies, but in the end none of that stuff really mattered. He was my father, and I literally owed my life to him.
He really did do the best he could to be the best person, father, husband, Christian he knew how to be. And like all of us he fell short of the mark regularly. Like all of us he had to survive some difficult things in his life. Unlike me and most of us he survived a near-death experience in a North Atlantic plane crash on his way home from World War II. He didn’t talk about that experience and I regret that I never cared enough to ask him about what had to be a life-defining moment. So I can only speculate on how the death of his crew mates in that crash or the 12 hours he spent in the water before being rescued affected him. I know I have no right to judge him for his shortcomings and regret the distance I helped create between us by doing so.
All such life events have a ripple effect on everyone touched by them. From that awful experience came my Dad’s conversion to Christianity, which led to my own growing up in the church and my career choices and how my faith and values have been shaped. In many ways I am who I am now because of the engine that failed on that B-17 seventy-four years ago.
A friend told me after Dad died that someone had told him once we don’t really grow up until we become orphans. I’m not sure I’ve made much headway in the last year, but I have a new appreciation for how fragile and temporary life is. Things that once bothered me don’t seem so important anymore. Maybe that’s a baby step toward maturity?
4 thoughts on “Memories”
Condolences to you again, Steve, on the first anniversary of your father’s death.
I can relate to much of what you wrote. I, too, made a 2-hour (one way) trip to see my Dad in his later years, and I,too—although of course I was sorry for his too-early death (he was in his 80’s, but had just had bypass surgery a few months before and we fully expected to have him alive and around well into his 90’s)–did not miss the long drive to see him. In fact, a week or two after his death, my friend and mentor, Rev. Harriette Zoller, said to me, “I bet you’re glad to be done with all that driving.” I *was* glad, but I wasn’t quite ready to say it out loud yet; it seemed unseemly in the face of Dad’s death.
My Dad was also a WWII veteran. He served in New Guinea. One story that he “didn’t tell” (except for once that I know of when they kind of “slipped out”) involved some Japanese soldiers who were seeking security in some caves near the end of the war. Dad said that the Allied troops filled barrels with something flamable and rolled them into the caves. They could hear the screams of the soldiers from inside the caves. Humans’ inhumanity to humans.
My Dad served as a combat engineer; he ran bulldozers to create landing strips (often finishing them hurriedly as the first returning plane was appearing in the sky) and rapidly assembled (un)loading docks at new ports so that ships could unload supplies. I suppose that these endeavors helped his thinking: he swore that he would never take a life with his weapon, yet enlisted and wanted to be part of the effort.
I appreciated this reflection on the meaning of your Dad’s life to you, including your observation that you owe your very life to him. I appreciated other parts of your reflection, as well.
Thank you for sharing, Phyllis. Mortality is a wonderful gift that puts life into perspective. I always appreciate your insights. Bishop Craig was very perceptive in so many ways, including her recognition of your gifts and graces. Peace and love.
Steve, thanks for sharing about your father and you. Grief work keeps on going despite the calendar. You seem to be plowing through in good form.
Just wondering if you are able to get a
reply back to this. Safe travels.
Yes we made it to LA at 9am local time. So far so good.