I was watching a documentary on the Israeli raid on Entebbe and they were interviewing the operators on the raid. One of them said that when he returned he saw his father. His father had lost his entire family in the Holocaust and had been in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp himself. He told his father that, “…we are now able to rescue Jews around the world and this is something that Jews had been unable to do when my father and his family needed rescuing.” He concluded by saying, “My father said, ‘you’ve done well.’ He was proud.”
Here’s a guy who had taken part in one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the world and what he was most happy about was that his father was proud of him. I connected with the man because of that. As men, we look for the recognition of our fathers and want to make them proud. It made me recall my last conversation with my father.
The last conversation I had with my father went something like this on the phone about a week before he passed away. I don’t remember the entire specific conversation, but I recall two snippets of the talk and it went something like this:
“Dad, you do what you need to do.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, if the pain is too much and you need to go, I understand.”
“Eric, I don’t even know what that means.”
“Then don’t worry about it.”
“Dad, I love you. I always have and I always will.”
(I hear him kind of laugh)
“Eric, I’ve know that my entire life. I love you too.”
I spoke with him often once I got to his house before he passed away. But he was unable to respond except in half-smiles and eyes of recognition. In retrospect, I think dad knew what I meant, but I don’t think he knew how to quit or give up.
One of the reasons I include this on my blog is because I don’t want to forget this conversation. I have a horrible memory. I want to be able to tell my kids this information when I’m old, just as my father told me his last talks with his father.
In dying, you taught me to live, to be strong, to be humble, to be selfless, to be faithful, to have hope, and to keep a sense of humor.
I miss you more than words can adequately express. You were my sounding board, my keel, my touchstone. I valued your advice and words of wisdom in more ways than I can count. My anger would always be abated after talking to you, my eagerness encouraged, my doubts erased. You held me up when I wanted to give up. You would help me see the long distance goals when all I could see were the short term obstacles. Your reminiscences showed me that doing dumb things is part of growing up and being a kid. Your seeking forgiveness for your failures reminded me that we all continue to need forgiveness. Your approval of those things I made with wood always made me glow with happiness. Your guidance in how to use tools and methods to build things never ceased to make me think you were always by my side when I completed them. Your listening ear without judgment allowed me to speak freely with you about so many things. Your constructive criticism was invaluable to me because I knew it came from a position of love and respect. Your joy at my success motivated me to keep persevering. Your sense of humor allowed me to see the silliness in things and to not take things so seriously. Your childlike humor kept me young. As I grew older I realized how hard it was to be a father and became quick to forgive you for your shortcomings when I was a child. You tempered me in the way fire tempers steel.
When you discovered you were dying, I told you that your last lesson was to teach me to die. I am so glad you never taught me that lesson. Instead, you taught me how to live. You were strong, oh so strong, in the face of overwhelming odds. You were humble, incredibly humble, and knew that it was not by your hand that you would pass away. You were selfless, completely selfless, and always thought of everyone else even in the midst of horrible pain. You never gave up hope, always believing that you would be healed. Your humor never gave way to despair and you made those around you laugh until you simply could no longer do so. You never lost faith in God and leaned on him throughout these last years. A son could not want more from his father. In dying, you taught me to live, to be strong, to be humble, to be selfless, to be faithful, to have hope, and to keep a sense of humor. These are the definitions of love. You taught me to love.
You were a successful father even with your failures. I am proud of you, who you were, what you became, and what you taught me. I learned how to be a father from your shortcomings and your successes. My earnest hope is that I am half the father you became; that my children say about me what I say about you.
I love you and will always miss you and yearn for the day that I see you again. Death does not hold the same…prospect for me that it once did as I know I will see not only our Lord, but I will see you again. I will enjoy seeing my children grow and rejoice with them in their successes, victories, and triumphs. I will enjoy grandchildren when and if they should arrive while I walk the Earth. I will always remember you in all I do and say. Your example is my example in how I deal with students, my children, and other people. Your kindness, compassion, and forgiveness have been my watchwords for many years now. As I deal with students I consider how you would have dealt with them and the compassion you would have shown and the heart of love you would have displayed.
In retrospect dad, your last lesson was not about dying. It was about living and about love. And I am eternally grateful for what you taught me those last two and half years.