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June 16, 2013

Father’s Day. I stand in awe of the bottles of aftershave, ties and other ‘must-have’ gifts that fathers will receive today with gratitude and remarks such as, “Just what I wanted,” the those gifts will be placed with the other bottles of aftershave or ties or the like that are stacked in his bathroom or closet. I can remember my Dad receiving such from us with laughter and how one day when I was in the Navy myself, finding he had accumulated dozens of such and kept them in the cabinet under the bathroom sink in our home.
My Dad was a quiet man, for the most part; he served honorably in the Navy as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate, retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9) after many years of service at sea and at bases scattered around the world. Many of the places we lived because of that service were wonderlands for young boys and his laughter still rings in my ears and his very real pleasure at the way we explored our world.
After completing senior year in High School (Swansboro, NC) I had my first and only fight with my Dad; I’d been less than frugal with the money I’d acquired while working at different jobs each summer and had nothing saved for college and so expected that Dad would pay my way as he was for my older brother. He told me one day after supper that this was not going to happen, that unless I showed some initiative in getting something saved, he would not help me. I blew up in my teenage, know-it-all self-righteousness at the unfairness of it all and said some hurtful things to him. I raised my voice to my Dad and in a fit of pique, packed a suitcase and left the house. I walked to a friend’s house about five miles away and stayed with him (my Dad had called ahead apparently and warned them I may show up) for a couple of weeks, starting a job at a local Dairy Queen and began thinking about what to do with the rest of my life (previously I’d just been floating along without any clear objectives). My lottery number (NOT the so-called “Educational Lottery” that we have now, this one was guaranteed to give the ‘winner’ an all-expense paid vacation in a lovely tropical paradise called Vietnam) was in the low 30s, so I knew that unless I was accepted to a college (I’d applied to several, but held out for UNC-Chapel Hill to give me a debating scholarship), my number would shortly be up.
One afternoon I walked/hitch-hiked to New Bern from Cedar Point (where I was staying with my friend’s family) and walked into the recruiter’s office for the U.S. Navy and signed up. I decided to go home and tell my Dad my decision (the prodigal returns) and received the shock of my life when I did tell Dad what I’d decided to do (keep in mind this man had been a career sailor who’d served honorably for over 25 years); he told me, “You’ll be sorry!” Talk about shock, here I thought he’d glow with pride at his son following him into the branch of service he’d served so ably in, but instead I get “You’ll be sorry!” We discussed our argument; I apologized for my behavior and told him about the money I had saved with my new job at the Dairy Queen. The next day I received a letter from UNC not only accepting me, but offering a full scholarship with their debating team! The twists of life we often take are usually unexpected and can be funny when looked back on later in life, but distressing and painful at the moment. Dad and I kept in closer touch through the years I served and after I left the Navy and settled in the Triangle area.
His final years he spent battling colon cancer and it was while living in the Tampa Bay area with Kathy that we received a call from my sister (who was also a nurse and had been staying at home to help care for Dad there) that if I wanted to see him alive, I’d better get there in a hurry. I asked Kathy to call the hospital and tell them I’d not be in and threw a bag into my Toyota and took off for Swansboro. Less than eleven hours later, I rolled to a stop in front of Dad and Mom’s home and ran inside. He’d been comatose for much of the time, but awakened in severe pain just after I arrived (my Mom and another sister had gone shopping to get Mom out of the house for a bit). I spoke with him and told him I was there and would help take care of Mom and Paul (my youngest brother who has Down’s syndrome). I’m ashamed to say that at no point in his illness did I mention to him or my Mom about what I’d heard at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, perhaps because at that time I’d not really understood or believed it then. The only ‘comfort’ I could offer was to tell Dad I was there.
About an hour later we were all gathered in front of the television arguing over what program to watch and I looked over to see if our ‘discussion’ was waking Dad up (we’d given him some pain medicine earlier) only to see him take his last breath and exhale one last time. I quietly got up and went to his bed (we had a hosptial bed set up in the family room so he could look out into the back yard) and checked for a pulse. Not finding one I got my stethoscope out and listened, but his heart had indeed stopped and this man I so loved was no longer there.
I so miss my Dad and still wonder at if he was proud of me. My desire more than anything was to please him and to hear him say, “Well done.” Many times I disappointed him and even hurt him with my words or actions. He was an example of an honorable man who did his best for his country and his family and his example is one that I still try to emulate.
I love you Dad.

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