Boots & Sabers

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0632, 20 Dec 22

48 years, 47 days

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It’s a bit personal this time, but ’tis the season.

48 years and 47 days. That is how long my father had lived when he died: 48 years and 47 days. I surpassed that age last week.


My dad died when I was 16. He missed me graduating from his alma mater. He missed me marrying the woman who would complete my soul. He missed the birth of our children and their children. He missed it all, but he was always there on my mind. He was always watching and guiding. At least, I have always sought counsel from his memory in good times and bad.


Like many sons, I suppose, he was my hero — even if I understand now that every hero has weaknesses. Through my hormone-confused teenage boy brain, my dad was everything a man should be. Honest. Strong. Smart. Loving. Generous. Brave. Adventurous. Fun. Funny. He was not afraid to love without compromise even as his belt occasionally had to keep his two headstrong sons in line.


I was just beginning to learn what it meant to be a man when my education was truncated. I’ve clung to those memories, or fragments of memories, muddled by time, for guidance as I have tried to be the man, husband, father, and grandfather, that I want to be … that I should be.


There are lessons, small and large, that I picked up from Dad that I try to follow. I always use my middle initial in professional communications because it, “looks more professional.” Perhaps that’s an anachronism now, but it is my lifelong homage to a man who went by his middle name.


On more than one occasion, I remember my father reminding my brother and I that, “I chose your mom. I didn’t choose you.” We never had any doubt about where we stood in the family hierarchy. I didn’t really come to appreciate that thought until many years later, but now I understand. Their marriage and love for each other was the foundation upon which our family was built. Without it, everything else is weaker and suffers. Being a good husband makes me a better father.


My dad was respectful to everyone. Growing up, his family had little. My grandparents worked hard and rose from relative poverty, through the middle class, to something on the upper rungs of the middle class by retirement. After eight years in the Army after college, my dad moved us to Saudi Arabia in 1976 where my dad was a junior civil engineer. He worked hard to rise to someone of modest importance, and he had a degree of wealth. After returning to the States in 1986, my dad tried, and failed, at entrepreneurship and we sunk into the upper rungs of the lower class.


Through all of that, I watched my dad work and play with everyone from Saudi princes to rough-knuckle workers at construction sites. He treated them with the same respect and generosity. He was as comfortable in a room of blue-bloods as he was playing gin with the semi-literate old man who changed oil at his little used car lot. I have a vivid memory of driving somewhere in an old Chevy pickup that he had for a while, and I made some smart-aleck comment about a worker picking up garbage on the road. He pulled the car over and said, with a blistering fury in his voice that melted my teenage hubris, “Son, that man is earning an honest living.”


It is from my dad that I inherited my incurable wanderlust. He traveled the world and grew irritable in routine. I remember him jokingly remarking once that, “If they don’t take American Express, you don’t need to go there.” Surely that was a tongue-in-cheek remark from a man who saw more of the world than most and loved to venture off the beaten path. He also once remarked that, “You can’t see a place from the hotel.”


Perhaps the most pervasive memory I have of my dad is just that he was there. Sons need dads. I sure needed mine. As I pushed my boundaries and tried to figure out the world, I could always rely on the man downstairs to help me understand. He was the rock to which I clung when the storm was too strong. He was always there. Until he wasn’t.


Everything my dad ever did, thought, experienced, felt, and learned happened within 48 years and 47 days. That’s it. That’s all the time he had. I’m walking down a path that my dad never trod. My imagined guide is no longer visible. I’ve passed him by.


God willing, I will grow old with my wife. I will try to say and do the things that I want my kids and grandkids to remember. Perhaps (almost certainly) I will say and do a few things that I’d rather they forget. I will be fearless about living. I will feel my body and mind wither and know that old age is a privilege.


Time is our most valuable resource, and it is ferociously finite. Especially this Christmas season, spend your precious time on the people you love, and the ones who love you. One of the greatest gifts we can give is a few of the irreplaceable moments we have on this earth. Those moments will shape someone else’s future. Give wisely. Give generously.


0632, 20 December 2022


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