One of the first memories I have of my dad is the sound of his voice telling me “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.” I was sitting in the back of his 1970 Toyota Land Cruiser, which was beginning to fill up with water. We had gone off-roading and were attempting to cross a stream in a spot where there was an unexpected drop off and we were now stuck. I remember the icy water was over the tops of my shoes and, despite his reassurance to the contrary, everything was definitely not okay. Fortunately, we were out with his best friend Bob, who, after what seemed like an eternity to the four year-old me, was able to pull us out with the winch on the front of his truck. My dad’s illness was both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it’s what ultimately took his life, but it also allowed the two of us to find each other amidst the collateral damage of a lifetime of never quite seeing eye to eye. When he got sick, the things between us that once seemed so important and at times even kept us from speaking became insignificant and ceased to matter. In the end, we found the common ground that had eluded us for far too long. We learned to respect each other not only as father and son, but as men. I no longer had to cast him as the villain to fuel my anger, itself simply a byproduct of the hurt of feeling abandoned after he and my mom divorced. He accepted the fact that even though I was of him I wasn’t him, and while he always wanted the best for me, he had to let me learn from my own mistakes instead of trying to be the solution to his. A couple days before he died, we were sitting on the front porch just after sunrise, which had become a welcome routine. We seldom said anything, instead we just drank our coffee, enjoying occupying the same space. “I love you dad,” I said. He was silent for a few minutes, then he put his hand on my leg and squeezed gently. “I love you too son,” he replied, “more than you’ll ever know.” He stared out over the desert and I could see his eyes begin to well up with tears.
The last memory I have of my dad is the echo of his words from more than four decades earlier. I woke up early on the morning of November 4th and just sat bedside him, talking to him, unsure of whether or not he could hear or understand me. “It’s okay, dad,” I said as I held his hand and stroked his forehead. “It’s gonna be okay.” He had fought so hard for so long—nearly a decade longer than the statistics and his doctors predicted. I studied his face, now sullen and drawn, and his hands, once so strong and capable, and I just watched as his breathing gently slowed and eventually stopped.
I can’t believe that it’s been two years already. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had more time with my parents, but I carry them with me and maybe that’s enough.