AN EPITAPH FOR FATHER'S DAY
I MISS SPEAKING TO MY DAD. There were so many times, over a thirty-year period when I would call him just to hear the sound of his voice.
Of course, I never told him that, but it is true.
My dad was a Southern gentleman: raised Baptist; a convert to Catholicism; conservative to the core. He was, without a doubt, the most ethical man I’ve ever known. He would never associate with anyone or anything he deemed ‘shady’ or unethical. And if he caught wind of one of his children doing so, there would be Hell to pay.
As the second last of seven children, my relationship to my dad seemed different. As a writer, I often challenged his notions of how the world worked — and recall some short stories and articles I wrote in high school that must have put Dad in a terrible quandary — and made him uncertain how to react.
To his credit, he never once forbade me from writing about any subject, no matter how uncomfortable it made him feel. He could have done so — and I believe I would have honored his command.
But he did not interfere, sensing that this was who I was born to be: an artist, ‘agitator,’ of sorts, a mirror for society. . .a writer.
In February 2007, I was engulfed by Generation RX. The call came on a Sunday that he was lapsing in and out of consciousness and that it wouldn’t be long before he would die. It took me about 10-12 hours to process that, as I was rather numb upon hearing the news.
During my flight from Cleveland to Boise 36 hours later, however, I had plenty of time to sort through our many years of physical separation and replayed many of the events of my childhood. The nuggets I re-discovered have been applied — successfully or not — to my life as a single Dad.
AT 35,000 FEET, I thought a lot about how affectionate I had been with my father. I sat on his lap and watched TV — far beyond the point of being a young child. By the time I was 13, I think, he FINALLY threw me off his lap. I was already taller than Dad’s 5’9” frame — and I’m pretty sure that I already weighed more than him also.
It took him months to enforce his new law for good, however, and something tells me he realized that I was the end of the line of Miller boys — and that like me, he wanted to relish every moment before I, too, was grown up and gone.
Most of my elder siblings say that my incessant, outward expressions of love for my dad simply “broke him down” over the years, and stripped away any remaining veneer of what were “appropriate” displays of emotions.
I, on the other hand, have always asserted that my poor old Dad was just worn out after five children — and by the time he got to me, his personal “Berlin Wall” had fallen.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but one thing seems certain: Dad realized somewhere along the line that no two children are alike — and that there is no “formula” for success.
WHEN I ARRIVED IN BOISE, my Mom led me to their bedroom, and forewarned me that Dad had not opened his eyes for nearly 24 hours. He had suffered another stroke and was unable to speak.
I got down on my knees, at eye-level with my father, who was turned on his side.
“Dad,” I said softly. “It’s Kevin. . .I am here.”
And Dad opened one eye. . .a final ‘miracle,’ of sorts.
Tears filled his one opened eye. Mine too. The Prodigal Son had returned. . . in time to see him off to the next realm.
Over the next 24 hours, I whispered to my Dad and spoke to him for hours, even though he never again opened his eyes. I told him what a good father he was; how proud I was to be his son, and more. I thanked him for allowing me to be the creative spirit I had become — even when it threatened him — and I thanked him for being the best Dad on the planet.
I told him it was okay to let go — his shift was over. . .his time here well-spent — his impact undeniable — his suffering complete.
Within a few hours, he was gone.
There is so much more I’d like to tell you about my Dad: that he played minor league baseball with the Phillies before the war, that he adored my Mom for well over a half-century; that he lived a good and productive life. But those will have to wait for another day.
Because now, I’m going to breakfast with my own sons — to make new memories — ones I pray they recall with fondness at a ripe old age.
Happy Father’s Day.