For many years, Valentine's Day has been a very unhappy day. When I was a sophomore in high school, my then girlfriend cheated on me with one of my so-called friends.
Valentine's Day 1992 was the worst. I received a phone call in the middle of the night from my sister, who informed me that our estranged father had been killed in a freak auto accident. Long story short, a man had a heart attack at the wheel of his car and plowed right into my father's house where he was asleep in his chair. Both men were killed instantly.
It's now 2010, and I am married with lots of children who I love. I am very fortunate to have a number of wonderful people that call me friend. Surely there is much to celebrate on February 14th, and I do celebrate through the grief, which is like an open wound that will never heal.
The picture was photo shopped by my son Cody. He superimposed my Dad (from my last photo of him) onto the picture so we could have our first generation picture. I am sure Dad would be honored by it. I wish I could say he was a wonderful and perfect father. I can't. He had many demons that he drowned in alcohol for many years. He abandoned us when I was 12 years old, and for a long time, we didn't know where he was or whether he was alive or dead.
At my high school graduation I saw him for the first time in 6 years. I had rehearsed many times over the years as to what I would say to him if I ever saw him again. I reluctantly walked over to him, took a deep breath, and no words came out. I fell into his arms and hugged him as we both wept for what seemed like hours.
He stuck around for awhile, then left again, and we exchanged a few letters and phone calls. One month before he died, Terri, Tiffani, and I got to spend a whole evening with him. We ate dinner with relatives, visited my Grandma, laughed, and took pictures. As we were leaving, we had made plans to get together again, all of us, as soon as possible. I hugged my father and told him I loved him. He said nothing, but that was just his way. I knew he loved me.
Thirty-five days later, on Valentine's Day, he was dead.
Over the years, I have often thought of all the things we missed out on. But the truth is, he and I have a lot more good memories than I realized. It is so easy to focus on the bad stuff and forget the good stuff. After many years, I am finally at peace with Dad's death. I will never fully understand some of the choices he made, but I understand that being a father is hard, and I am only one bad choice away from repeating his mistakes. "There, but by the grace of God go I," or something like that, right?
I love being a father. A dad. My children will call me,"Far from perfect," and "a nerd," but they love me and keep me going each day. Today, I miss my Dad more than usual. He never got to meet his grandchildren, but they have met him through my stories and photos.
The last time I saw my Dad alive, he was happy. He had met someone special, and was turning his life around. His best friend was a pastor! At my Dad's visitation, there were hundreds of people there. Hundreds! Each one told me how special he was to them, and how loved he was. He cheered people up when they were down. He listened. He gave himself away to everyone as a friend. I learned one final life lesson from my Dad that I have shared with my children time and again. I will share it here: "It's not how we start, but how we finish that is most important."
I miss you, Dad.