After 34 years...
I miss his laugh. He had a great sense of humor.
I miss talking Bama football with him. He never went to college, but was all Crimson & White in his loyalties. He took me to my first-ever bowl game in the rain in New Orleans. Alabama (naturally!) v. Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. Bear Bryant called it the best game he ever saw. It's certainly one of my faves too, but for different reasons...
I miss traveling with him. All 50 states...Canado...Mexico...Bahamas...England...France…Holland...Belgium...Germany...Italy...Switzerland.
I miss camping with him. On the long trips to AK & CA, but also the mini-trips over the weekend or during the week in the summer to Rocky Bayou & Ft. Pickens & Grayton Beach.
I miss hunting & fishing with him. We were never very good, but we caught & killed a few.
I miss throwing a football & a baseball & hitting a tennis ball & playing ping pong with him. I don't recall ever beating him in pong, now that I think of it...Also, I recall that he never hit a backhand in tennis; he’d switch the racket to his left hand & always hit a forehand.
I miss breakfast & supper with him. Because his wife & kids were so important to him, we ate as many meals together as possible. I also miss the pre-fishing breakfasts at Joe & Eddie's, & the Saturday morning Krispy Kreme runs, & the occasional summer-day lunch at McDonald's or Burger King.
I miss watching the nightly news with him & listening to his wise commentary. There are those in our culture who arrogantly say that only the well-educated are wise. They are wrong about other things too.
I miss hanging out after school at Madaris Printing & Office Supplies & asking a million questions. He always answered them. I have been a business school professor off & on for over 20 years now, perhaps because of becoming fascinated with business things years ago as a kid in the business he founded & ran so very well.
I miss going to church with him. We went often, and it very clearly (to all who knew him) meant something to him. I also miss him serving me the Lord's supper and keeping the 3-year-old nursery. Because I’m his son, I started going to church 9 months before I was born, for which I am so very grateful.
I miss his singing. Mostly Hank Williams (Senior, of course), with some Roy Acuff & some gospel thrown in, along with some hymns. (“In the Garden” was a favorite of his, as I recall) I still love Hank, and not just because he was great. I'll never hear Hank (or anyone else, for that matter) sing "Heeeeeey, Good Lookin'...Whaaaaaat You Got Cookin?" without seeing him sing it to my Mom in the kitchen in the morning with that great smile on his face & twinkle in his eye. Steel guitars? Love ‘em; especially the ones backing up Hank on “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
I miss him holding hands with my Mom. Which he did frequently. (She misses it too! I so thankful that Leo also holds hands with her in public.)
I miss the feel of his 5:00 shadow when he would hug me. Which he also did frequently. Because of his physical affection, I totally & completely reject the bogus lie from hell that “real men don’t show affection.” Dad was a country boy who enjoyed hunting & fishing & who was a veteran of the tail end of WW2. And he hugged all the time. I do too, with apologies to nobody. If me hugging my son or a friend offends your masculinity, then yours is a false, bogus, immature, incomplete masculinity.
I miss him making fun of how we danced at school dances. “Y’all call that dancing? Y’all don’t know how to dance…”
I miss going to the beach with him. He loved the white sandy beaches of NW FL as I do.
I miss him cooking burgers & manning the concession stand for our high-school football games.
I miss the bright green jacket he always wore to do the above (our school colors were green & white). He was buried in that jacket.
I miss him picking out songs--correctly--on the piano, despite having no musical training & not being able to read music. What a great ear for music he had!
I miss how he loved & helped his widowed mother & his widowed sisters.
Oddly enough, as painfully as I miss all of these things, it is perhaps things undone that I miss the most. Things that will never be done this side of glory. Some of which--praise God--won't have to be done there in the land of the eternal dawn...
--him taking pictures of my prom date & me--receiving his congratulations on graduating from HS/college/grad school
--rejoicing with him over being admitted to college/grad school
--hearing him say "you played well" after a HS jazz band concert
--sharing the steps of my call to ministry & to part-time missions with him
--introducing Lisa Mixon to him...and later telling him that she's the one for me.
--helping each other with our tuxes at my wedding
--calling him & saying, "Dad, you have a grandson named James after you...Lisa's doing great!" (He really would’ve cried at that one)
--him helping me move & buy a house, & then visiting us there often
--calling him & saying "Dad, you have a granddaughter named Rebecca Anne...Lisa's doing great!"
--being greeted by him with a hug when I come home to visit
--going to Alabama games with him
--going to Ole Miss games with him proudly wearing his "Ole Miss Granddad" or his “Ole Miss Pharmacy” shirt next to me wearing my “Ole Miss Dad” shirt.
--sitting on his back porch--or mine--together and wordlessly watching the dawn & the sunset
Basically, I miss his affirming me and his welcoming me as a man. I miss those terribly, and need them greatly. All of us little boys need that affirmation & welcoming.
And I deeply miss getting the chance to tell him "Goodbye..."
If you’re wondering, after 34 years I still don’t have a very good answer to the big “why?” question. I’m pretty sure I won’t get that answer this side of glory. I’m OK with that, but I still wonder. Especially on this day.
After 34 years, the wound is still just barely...barely...short of being too great to bear. But the Bible says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones." C. S. Lewis said that if we knew what God knows about death, we would clap our hands with joy at the passing of a believer. And I do...most of the time.
But today, on the 34th anniversary of his death, I am very nearly overcome with the synergistic pains of loss, memory, and longing. Also with the awareness of how very far I am from living up to the very high example he lived before me for 15 1/2 years.
I'll be OK. Truly, I will. But not just now. Just now, I remember. And long for that which cannot ever be. The affirmation and affection of a father. I'm pretty sure he would affirm, for he always did. But I'd still give up much that I have ever had to actually hear him do so. And for another hug & smile & "I'm proud of you, son."
One day, he'll again smile that smile that made the ladies of Lowndes County, AL (& one in particular from Coffee County, AL) go weak at the knees. He'll hug me and say, "Welcome home, son...It's great to see you." And together, we'll celebrate at the party to end all parties (literally!). And...thank God!...I will never have to say “goodbye” or “I miss you” again.
For now, though, Bye Dad. I still remember. Always will. Thanks! Merry Christmas!
With more love than I can fully capture,