It has now been thirty-five years since you welcomed me into this world on one snowy night in Memphis, Tennessee. It has also been sixteen years since cancer stole you away and left me with no father to attend my college graduation, my wedding day, or my daughter’s birth. I know you did not choose to leave me, but for a long time, I have been angry by the fact that you could not defeat that harrowing brain tumor. When I see other fathers and grandfathers enjoy their precious time with their loved ones; I cannot help but believe that Jana, Marley, and I were cheated out of those cherished moments.
Can you see us now? In some ways, I hope you can’t. It pains me to think of the agony you must have felt, as you were merely able to witness my life’s joys and sufferings from afar. But, I must admit, I am considered much more fortunate than many others. The nineteen years we were able to spend together as father and son has ultimately molded me into the person I am today. Every year, I meet children who have non-existent fathers or parents who believe that their job is a “part time gig”. These “youngsters” (I knew you would like that word!) are desperate for a male role model in their lives, and I find myself constantly filling that role even though they are not my children. Maybe you were not a perfect father, but you were committed to being a full-time dad while you were alive, and that in itself, is a gift from God. I am forever grateful that you wanted to be my dad.
I have accepted that Marley will never really know you. I remember you showing me a picture of Grandpa Barr when I was young and explaining to me who he was and how he died. I listened, but I did not care. To me, he was just a picture, not someone I would meet or build a relationship with in life. Unfortunately, the same will be true for you and Marley. You should see her with Jana’s dad. They play together and she even has a nickname for him --“Pappy”. I often pray that my father-in-law will live a long life, so he can teach Marley the things that a grand “pappy” should teach their granddaughter. I know I missed out on those lessons with no grandfather present in my life, but Marley deserves those intimate occasions. When I witness those moments she shares with him, I hurt for you. Not because Marley is missing out, even though I know she would adore you, but because you deserve to be a part of her life. But, that is not the life journey God had planned for you or me. So now, we can either praise God for the time we had together, or be angry with Him. I know which decision you would have chosen, and I now choose to do the same.
I am still a little upset that you never shared with me the joys and sufferings of marriage before you left this world. I never imagined that I could love someone more than anyone in the world in one hour, and then feel the urge to strangle her the next (metaphorically!) As much as I admire your role as a committed father, I must admit, I am now more in awe of you as a devoted husband. Today, over eighty percent of couples with special needs children get divorced. And actually, I considered leaving Jana when Marley was first born. I can feel your disappointment in that thought even though you have been dead for sixteen years. But, part of the reason I stayed, was due to your commitment. Maybe you were not physically present three years ago during my depression, but your fatherly guidance when you were here saved my marriage, my family, and my life.
I want to thank you for being my father. Should you be here for Marley? Absolutely. But it is unfair for me to harbor anger against something that was out of our control. A few days after you died, someone I respect very much told me that the best way to keep your memory alive was to honor you by how I lived my life. The first few years after you died was a complete disaster, but today, I believe that you would be proud to call me your son. There have been some dark moments that I am actually relieved that you did not see, but following your example has helped me overcome those dreadful occasions. Just last week, while addressing my girls’ basketball team after a loss, I emulated a famous speech you once shared with me after a loss many years ago. I looked at my girls and told them that it was my fault we had lost the game. "I should have prepared more, I should have pushed them more, and I should have made better adjustments during the game." I took the blame, and later that weekend we came back from the loss to win the tournament. Even now at thirty-five, I am still learning the lessons that you taught me as an adolescent, like admitting my faults, even when it hurts. Maybe Marley will never understand the great father that you were, but I will always understand and honor you by trying to be the same remarkable father to her.
Your Youngest Son,