Blink and Ten Years Fly Past
On the morning of December 23rd 2005 my daughter Madison was barely a year old. My oldest daughter Alyssa was just beginning high school. I had just turned 40 and had taken time to consider who I was, where I was going and what I should do next.
George W. Bush was in the beginning of his second term and most Americans were still supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The biggest story of 2005 wasn’t politics or war but rather Hurricane Katrina that had devastated the Gulf Coast in late August.
I’m not sure what was on my mind that morning. Looking back from ten years down the road it’s hard to say. Obviously I was engrossed in my youngest daughter being a toddler and the battles of the challenging teenage years with my oldest.
A couple of weeks before that morning, I had called my dad to tell him about a beautiful whitetail I’d taken with my muzzleloader. He had gotten a little perturbed earlier that fall after I’d killed a big deer and not given him a call. I’d no idea that I would never get that chance again.
The evening of December 23rd, 2005 is one of the seminal moments of my life, a day that started without significance but would end with my entire life having a new and unexpected view. Sometime after dinner that night my brother Shane called me to ask if had spoken to my father, I had not. It seemed nobody could get a hold of him for the better part of two days. That in and of itself was not significant but the fact that his cell phone voicemail was full and couldn’t take anymore messages was. I remember at that very moment having a foreboding that something was terribly wrong. Shane and one of my closest personal friends were standing at the bottom of the hill to my dad’s house. They too knew something wasn’t right and didn’t want to take another step. “What do you think we should do?” Shane asked me on my cell. “Give me a minute and let me make a call.”
I called another close friend, Tim Coolidge, a Michigan State Trooper who I’d gotten to know very well over the previous few years. I asked him how I’d go about a welfare check at my dad’s house. “Tell those guys not to move- I’m on my way.” I thought about that for a second and started to protest, “Tim you live at least 45 minutes from there.” However I was out of town and Tim wasn’t really discussing it. “Tell them not to move and that I’m on my way”, he repeated.
I called Shane back to tell him Tim would be there soon and to just sit tight. He agreed that was probably the best move. He was right.
It is in those dark quiet moments that your mind races through the possibilities ahead. I was on the east coast and totally helpless to do anything but wait. I watched the clock slowly tick-tock as it rounded eleven thirty and headed for midnight. I wasn’t panicked but strangely calm. I dialed my fathers cell phone a couple of times but it told me the voicemail was full. I waited.
The clock reached 11:45 and I considered the possibility that I would hear something awful on Christmas Eve. I prayed. I waited.
My phone rang moments later, Shane delivered in a nearly monotone pitch the words that would forever alter the direction of my life, “He’s dead.” I paused momentarily and said the only thing that came to mind, “are you joking?” “I wouldn’t joke about something like that” was his only response. I’m not sure what happened after that- I think sometimes your mind just goes blank for a while, spinning as fast as a centrifuge, a blackness takes over your mind, to protect your soul I think. It’s one of God’s ways to shield us from the awful shock- if only for a moment so we can catch our breath.
I remember driving that night- just to do something while I waited for a flight home in the morning. I heard the song My Old Friend by Tim McGraw for the very first time that night on the radio. It’s gets me still. It seems, that song was given to me personally, by God himself.
My father was 67 years old.
He died in an accidental fall down the stairs in his own home. There was no one there to help, just his two faithful Brittany Spaniels. Doctors say it likely would have made no difference because of the type of injury to his brain. He never moved after falling and was gone in minutes. It cut short the life of a vigorous man who could inspire me to do great things or trigger great resentment to my bones. No one has ever had the impact on me, both positive and negative, as my father.
In an instant ten years have gotten past me and I wonder how it all moves so fast. I think of my father almost daily. I wonder what he would think of the world today and of my radio program. He never met my wife or my son and saw my youngest daughter only a time or two. My oldest daughter enjoyed a special relationship with my dad like most of his grandkids and like the rest of us feels cheated I’m sure.
I think back today to him sneaking balls of cheese onto my hook at mid-winter fishing shows, so I could catch the trout swimming in circles in swimming pools, stalking through the woods near Ithaca to collect my first deer, sitting along a stream in Montana or watching with amazement as he dispatched three ducks in two shots in Mexico.
I remember the discussions we’d have about politics, outdoor television, war, peace and beautiful women.
It’s strange even to this day for me to accept that he isn’t here anymore to battle about little things and agree on the big ones. It does not seem possible that a decade has come- and by tonight has gone since he left.
So let me say this, take a moment to say the things you need to today and do not wait until tomorrow. Be slow to anger and quick to say “I’m sorry”. For you never know when someone you know so well will simply have to say goodbye.
For all of us; there will come a dawn that will prove to be our last- our future fading to only a past. Make sure that past is worth remembering- this Christmas season and all the seasons of your life.
Merry Christmas to you and your family- and Dad, I still miss you, no matter how much you ticked me off from time to time.