To My Father, Long Gone But Not
By Chuck Connell
My father died more than a quarter century ago, when I was 24 years old. Sometimes his death seems achingly long past and my time with my father seems far away. But more often, my father is an immediate presence in my life and a part of everything I do.
My father had an amazing range of interests and talents. He took me canoeing and camping on the Racquet River in the Adirondack Mountains 40 years ago. I vividly remember paddling the canoe on the perfectly calm river looking at the wide sky and smelling the wilderness. On that river, there is a twisted section called The Oxbow, where it is easy to get lost. My father showed me how to look at the marsh grass under the water to see which way it was leaning, and this pointed the way out. Now, one of my favorite activities is camping with my own wife and children, passing on part of that experience.
Professionally, my father had a degree in business law and liked to explain those subjects to me. Now, I run a small business. My father knew about math and science, and loved to talk about physics, numbers, and electronics. Those are the subjects I enjoyed at school. My father was good with his hands and seemed to be able to fix anything around the house. Now, I take satisfaction from repairing items at my house, sometimes with the same tools he used.
My fatherís favorite hobby was flying. As a boy, he liked to read about airplanes and famous pilots, and he earned his pilotís license while still a teenager. I flew with my father many times when I was young, and noticed the attention to detail and safety he showed toward the airplane. I have copied this same careful approach in many of my activities. My brother has turned our fatherís hobby into a rewarding career; he is now a commercial pilot.
My father treated people kindly, in hundreds of small ways. Even though he was well educated and had a good job with an important company, he never acted as if he were superior to anyone. One of his closest friends in the neighborhood pumped gas at the local service station. My father admonished me when I was not polite to one of the workers in his company cafeteria. Now, when my snobby tendencies surface, my fatherís lessons bring me back to earth.
My father and mother divorced several years before my fatherís death. Following their divorce, my father took care of us children. He made sure my sister and I had money to continue college and he gave my younger brother a home while he finished high school. I realize now how unusual this was, since there were few single fathers then. And he did this in spite of considerable personal sadness over loss of his marriage, a job layoff, the onset of heart disease, and the death of his own father. While I was legally an adult at the time, my father gave me a sense of home at his new house, which meant a lot to me.
I married when I was 35 years old and thought I would not need my fatherís memories any more. I said to myself, ďIím all grown up now; Iím getting married; I was a kid when I knew him.Ē I was wrong. Through being married and raising my own children, I have felt my fatherís presence even more strongly. While I am certainly not a perfect husband, my ability to work out a problem with my wife and understand her point of view comes from the way my father talked to me. Countless times I have laughed and played with my children and found myself thinking: ďThis is just like being with my father.Ē When I have helped my children solve problems in their lives, I have often wondered where I learned this skill, and then remembered my father helping me in the same way.
Sometimes I feel cheated that my father died when I was young. But mostly I feel very lucky he was my father. So, Dad, here is a message for you: I am doing well. I have everything important I want in life, except more time with you. Thank you for helping me get here. Happy Fatherís Day.
Copyright 2004 by Chuck Connell. Chuck is a software consultant and writer in Bedford, MA.