It’s my father’s birthday today. He is 119 years old. I write in the present tense because he is still very much alive; on my mind often and in my heart always.
How I would love to talk to him today. There is so much that I left unsaid; so much I want to say to him.
I was so smart and smug, a college boy, sophisticated, an Ivy Leaguer no less. I knew so much more than he did! It was convenient to ignore the childhood he provided, free of hunger and hardship, the tuition scraped and paid to the bursar in the ivory tower; the opportunities there for the taking.
Dad, I’m so sorry: I want to apologize for the lack of respect; for dismissing your unbending loyalty to the family; for underestimating the toll it took to go to work day after day at a job that brought home a salary but left no room for your wonderful inventiveness and innate intelligence.
I fell off the high horse a decade after you passed; when I had my office in Houston and a barrel of Texas Crude that sold for $39-plus couldn’t find a buyer at 9-bucks even; when my corporate clients that sponsored films with pompous titles like ”Around the World With Conoco” didn’t have enough money in their budget to travel around the corner.
That’s when I learned when times are good and you’re riding high it’s easy to puff up and be smug about your moral integrity. I learned it is not so easy to stick to your principles when there’s a foreclosure notice in the mailbox and doing what you must do to survive is the only way to keep the sheriff from putting your furniture out in the street.
How did you manage it, Dad, shepherding the family through the depression, the war, the death of your eldest son, mom being incapacitated for months and years on end? I never gave your accomplishments a thought because I thought the world orbited around me.
I learned, Dad, I found out first-hand what it’s like when the hounds of hell are dripping spit in your vestibule. Righteousness can dissipate quickly when life dances on a trampoline and your survival is on the block.
I’ve been seated on a crane high above a street scene with a hundred grand paying for the ride and a hundred men and women waiting for me to yell “action.” And I’ve been hunched behind a rented video camera shooting low budget affairs with screaming titles and shrill announcers flogging a “Super Saturday Sale” for low-end specialty stores selling merchandise even Dollar Stores won’t touch.
Dad, how did you hang in there, day after day? It took me a long time to learn the answer. You put your family first and your ego second. You never went for the shady schemes that often came your way. You never sold out.
My soul was for sale. I buried my truth. I took the job with a plush corner office and a discreet door to a private washroom even as I suffered the Tums-immune, hot lava hole in my gullet that came with the title. I rose to my highest level of incompetence.
These were the lessons you taught: keep your integrity intact; recognize the sin of vanity and the puffery of ego; put family first. I ignored them when they mattered most. Now they represent everything I value.
I see your face in the flickering flame of the memorial candle, remembering you and the life you led, and all that you sacrificed for me. How ironic, I once boasted that I would never put myself into your shoes, and now I am humbled and grateful and following your footsteps.
When I was a child you sat at the head of the table and I hardly ever heard a word you said. Now I am old, and you are in a patch of ground a thousand miles away, and I listen to you speak to me every day. Happy birthday, Dad