Father's Day this year has hit me harder than it has for quite some time. Perhaps that's because I lost my brother the day after Thanksgiving and feel a little jealous because he is now with the father we lost as children. I was 13 when he was called home. I remember that afternoon with clarity. He was in bed resting when I returned on the long, yellow school bus. My mother left me to tend the little ones while she and my older sister went to town to get something she hoped would help settle his stomach. My siblings were watching Rawhide on our small black and white television. I loved that show because I had a schoolgirl crush on the character named Roudy Yates. (Clint Eastwood for those who are too young to remember the show.)
But for some reason, I couldn't get into the episode. Our father was never sick, so I kept going his door to ask if there was something he needed. He was a six-foot, four-inch cowboy who loved to ride his horse, tend his cattle and perform in rodeos. He was our champion, and I had been his right-hand man since the day I got out of bed after my first bout with rheumatic fever. I was going into the 4th grade. I got up at 4:30 every morning to drive the tractor while he fed the cattle and worked with him on every project I could around the farm from setting fence posts to stacking hay. I looked more like him that any of my siblings - mostly because I have the same long, straight nose - and that was definitely a plus to me.
Anyway, back to my story. I heard a thump and went racing towards the back of the house. But my father wasn't where I had left him. He had gone into the bathroom and had a heart attack. His body was blocking the door. I cried out for help and push with all my might, but it wouldn't budge. It was about this time that our mother got home. She sent us next door to the neighbors. That short walk seemed like the longest of my life and after we were left alone in the neighbor's kitchen, I had all of us kneel down to pray that our dad would be okay. Then the long minutes of waiting began.
I had been taught to pray as a child at his knee but never before had I felt the need to do so with such intent. I loved my father completely and trusted that he would always be there to take care of me. But God had other plans. It was nearly dusk when my uncle came to get us. He said our father was gone but we could come home. Walking into the house he had build for us with his own hands was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I wanted to hear his voice more than anything else in the world, or even see his face, but his body had already been taken to the mortuary. I don't remember much about the next few days, except that neighbors filled our freezer with tuna casseroles and chocolate cake.
Life after that was nothing more than existence. My mother had a complete nervous breakdown three years later, and I ended up running away from home because I couldn't take the abuse any longer. My grandmother drove me to college a few months later. I had been lucky in receiving an academic scholarship, or I never would have been able to leave Idaho.
The first year being completely on my own was the hardest. If I could find a ride back to Idaho Falls, I would stay with my grandmother. After my mother had left for the night, she and my uncle would take me to see my younger siblings. We would cry as I held them in my arms and promised that we would get to see each other more often. But those promises were empty because I never went home to stay again.
It would be nice to say that my trials gave me strength, and I suppose in many ways they did. The challenge was trying to keep it together without any support after my grandmother died the spring semester of my freshman year. I was left without any of the emotional tools I needed to navigate a very confusing, and often frightening, world. But there were a few times along the way when I knew my father was with me. It's been a long time since I've heard his voice in my head, but I'm sure I will recognize it when I hear it again. I know this life isn't all there is. It is but a small moment in the span of eternity.
Despite many times when I wish I had been smarter, more astute and less emotional so I wouldn't have made my life more difficult than it might have been, I am so grateful that I got to be with my father for as long as I did. I miss him so much and wonder quite often how things would have been if he had been allowed to stay with us. We needed him so much. He was our rock, our champion, our defender, our teacher and our best friend.
I wrote this poem a few years ago and want to share it with you. I know many of you have endured similar experiences, and I would love to hear about them. All you have to do is reply to this. I hope fathers around the world know how important they are to their children for we are all a little lost without them.
Did you know that perfect spring morn so long ago
that you would be leaving your loved ones alone
to return so abruptly to your heavenly home?
Did you know that the unexpected loss and confusion
your children felt would bring sorrow,
tears, uncertainty and a lifetime of regrets?
Did you know that the wife you loved above all
would lose her way, struggle with fear, grief,
adversity and the harsh responsibility for us all?
Did you know your seven little ones would become divided,
holding pain, sorrow, anger, self-recrimination and anxiety inside,
almost forgetting that you were ever part of our lives?
Did you know that the emptiness felt to our very cores
would fester so completely that the most vulnerable of us
never knew true intimacy, especially with a spouse?
Did you know how many of us would fight with all we had
to stop the abuse in our own homes - ramifications of the nearly
debilitating treatment we had suffered so often after you were gone?
Did you know that we would long for your wisdom,
your gentle way of caring, and your heartfelt laugher
as we tried to navigate our often bewildering journeys?
Did you know that all of us would want to be with you again,
to see your smile, to hold your hand, to let you know that
we did our best through some very difficult moments?