A series of posts written from October – December 2016. Releasing from Drafts, finally.
Last Saturday morning I met my father and extended family for breakfast at a local greasy spoon. Great food, hot coffee and good conversation with loved ones, it’s a joint they’ve frequented weekly through a few presidential administrations.
It was great to see Dad. I bent down and kissed him on the forehead. His spine and ribs jutted through the thin dress shirt and blue J.J. Bean fleece he wore as I released my gentle and cautious embrace. Gaunt, pale and unshaven, my father looked a decade older than his 69 years.
Over 30 years ago I moved to Texas to attend college. While that’s true, I moved from North Carolina to the Lone Star State also to get to know him; not as a boy knows and understands his father but on a new, different field altogether, adult-to-adult. He made the offer to come to Texas with the same goal, to get the chance to now know the man he called son.
Except for brief stints when relocating temporarily for his work, my father and I would live no farther than 30 miles away from one another during this period, a thousand miles closer than when I was growing up.
Yet, a few miles can be the same as a thousand if you are not reaching for one another.
Yes, it was great to see Dad.
Coffee mugs steaming full and meals served, we ate the plates clean while catching up.
Icarus, Prepare for Landing
As the 737 landed in Florida the next day, I flicked off airplane mode. Vibrating whirs and dings erupted from my phone as they did in surround from fliers in adjacent rows. Red news alerts and email notifications flashed. Typical e-noise disguised as important information scrolled by. I stopped when I saw a text from my wife.
“Call me as soon as possible after you land,” the green bubble read.
“Wheels down. Will do,” I responded. “Is everything ok?”
“Just call me ASAP please.”
“Ok. Will call after I get off the plane,” I tapped back. “What’s up?”
“It’s your dad.”
Her text stopped me.
Strong, direct and independent, Dad now struggled with chronic health problems. The prior decade reduced a trim, 5’10” restlessly active and hard-working family provider to a 110 lbs. shuffling shadow, dependent on oxygen for breath and his wife’s two jobs for income.
Yes, a few miles can be the same as a thousand if you are not reaching for one another.
The Slow Goodbye
Dad’s leaving wasn’t abrupt. The slide was slow. An occasional apologetic call for missing a birthday dinner at our house or a function for our kids here or there, over time the apologetic anomalies became the norm. Unless held near or at his home, an empty chair spoke his absence. My father’s mobility was limited by the range of the O2 level he toted as a necessary and constant companion, a reminder of the havoc reeked on his body.
Only three months ago I held up my sister’s iPhone so Dad could watch his only daughter’s surprise engagement dinner. He was unable to attend.
A few miles can be the same as a thousand, a million, if you are not reaching for one another.
That’s enough for tonight. Tomorrow’s another light. From one sojourner to another, all the best.