Most of us are blessed with two precious gifts which are with us since the day we were born, but thatís far from universal. Most of us grow up with both a mother and father ó even if they donít live under the same roof Ďtil death do them part. And most of us who do donít appreciate what treasurers we have in them until they are no longer around.
Thatís when the regrets begin.
The approach of Fatherís Day this Sunday brings a flood of emotions in my family, and perhaps itís the same way in yours. Those feelings, however, generally run highest at a time when it is too late to do something with them.
Maybe thatís OK. Dads usually donít relish the spotlight. They donít want to be embarrassed with recognition of some lofty position to which they feel inadequate to possess. That could be tied to wishing they had taken more time to do things or to just hang around with their children. Too soon, it seems, the regrets go in the other direction.
Letís face it. The gifts dads are typically presented on Fatherís Day are hardly stellar in the view of the rest of the world. Indeed, the best gifts come from the heart anyway, and price tags are not important. Sometimes, the entire presentation takes on an appearance of duty rather than affection. Sometimes, dads are guilty of parenting in such a manner, too.
Fathers appreciate any gesture that tends to show their children acknowledge the fact that the old man is important in their lives, if not all the time relevant. When that stage in a young personís life arrives, some of the most important parenting has already been done ó or hasnít been done ó and then the offspring generally donít understand the circle of life business until they are grown and, perhaps, have children of their own.
Someone on a television talk show observed that fathers from older generations ó such as ďthe greatest generationĒ ó are somewhat less comfortable telling members are their families, and their children in particular, that they are loved. I canít speak to that generalization, but if it is accurate, my father was the World War II veteran who was the exception that proved the rule.
My father would plant a goodbye kiss on the lips of his children just as readily as he would our mother. And when he wasnít telling us he loved us, he was showing it ó again and again in countless ways that we didnít always quite understand or appreciate. But now, looking back, we regard them as part of the priceless legacy of happy memories he left us. And he did leave us, although certainly not voluntarily.
Fatherís Day is supposed to be special, but circumstances regarding his departure conspired to make it unforgettable.
On a hot day in June 1985, my mother and I found ourselves rushing Dad to the emergency room as he suffered a heart attack. He had pulled through one of these 10 years earlier, almost to the day, and he had been complaining of pain recently and how his heart medicine was making him feel worse. He had a doctorís appointment for the next day when a new prescription was anticipated.
An exhausting three days followed, with cycles of hope and gloom which proved to us just how precarious his condition had become.
Attempts to sleep were pointless, but visiting hours were very limited in the cardiac care unit. On a Sunday morning, Mother was asked if she wanted to bring in life-support equipment if it came down to that. No, she said, he wouldnít want that to happen.
But wait! An experimental drug had perked him up. Had he turned the corner? We went home after the midday visiting period to try to get some rest. In less than a hour, though, the hospital called. Mother had a sixth-sense about the telephoneís ring, long before caller ID was an option.
Dadís kidneys failed first, and then his heart quit soon after. But moment before his final deep breath, with his wife and two children at his side, he stirred from the unconscious state he had been in for 24 hours, and despite all those tubes running into his body, he whispered with a touch of authority, ďI love you, I love you all.Ē
He had always been busy showing us how best to live; now, he had gone and showed us how best to die.
Somewhere, my sister and I had some Fatherís Day cards and gifts we were planning to give him that Sunday, and I donít know what became of them. They werenít all that much, after all, especially considering it was his last Fatherís Day to be with us. But as usual, it didnít matter. Thatís because as usual, Dad gave us much more on Fatherís Day than we could ever return.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an adaptation of a ďtgifĒ column that originally was published in the Bulletin in June 1998.