Writing Home to Dad

Dear Dad:

A friend asked me a few days ago what I remember as the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I told him that it was giving the eulogy at your memorial service.
That day, all I could think about was saying goodbye. Not the kind of goodbye we shared when one of us left deer camp or exchanged after I had dropped by the house for a visit with you and mom. It was, I believed, the final goodbye.
In my grief, and amid the grief of the hundred-plus people who shared the hard wooden church pews in Pearland that cold December day, it seemed so absolute.Poling Rainbow Shadow
And it was. Today, almost 18 years later, I still think about how great it would have been if I could have called you on a thousand different occasions … when I needed advice about sighting in that priceless 7.62mm rifle you left me, when I’d just seen the coolest thing on the Discovery Channel, when the truck broke down, when I  got home from the Galveston Jetties and wanted to ramble on about how we had caught and released a half-dozen of those humongous redfish that you used to love to tangle with whenever the wind laid down and the tides began to move, and in the painful days that followed a much stronger tide, the one that swelled and screamed and laid waste to everything in its surging path the night that Hurricane Ike roared into our home and left me and Liz in a state of shock.
I don’t do it around strangers. After all, they think I am crazy as it is. But I do talk to you now and then, at times both happy and horrendous, whenever I think of you … which, after all this time is still every single day.
So, it occurred to me this morning, what with Father’s Day having rolled around again, that day in December of ’01 wasn’t really the final goodbye. I’ve never completely let you go, and now that I understand with a clearer head and the benefit of almost two decades of enduring life’s unpredictable butt-whippings and awe-inspiring wonders, have no intention of ever doing so.
You told me on your deathbed that any man who could sit in a deer stand and watch the woods come to life without acknowledging the existence of a higher power is a man without a soul. You were right. I have never, not once, climbed into the box blind at the Bobcat Stand or Morley Corner without remembering those words. And every time I remember, right along with those bluejays, fox squirrels, woodpeckers, armadillos, mockingbirds, turkeys and a thousand other forms of wildlife, you come back to life as well.
I’ve never lost your picture.
No, I can’t shake your hand. But there in the country, everything from your great big heart to your unyielding and resolute backbone and confidence remains in its purest essence. We shared a lot of confidences, jokes and assurances in the shade of those rambling post oaks, and I believe I remember over 90 percent of them.
God knows I have made my share of mistakes. But if I ever did anything right in my life it was to spend every blessed minute possible sharing time and experiences with you in the last ten years of your life. The open-heart surgery was a wake-up call. I woke up, big-time.
We had some awesome trips, didn’t we? We caught those big bass on Lake Conroe, the same day I hooked that beast of a fish that wrapped me up in a submerged tree and snapped the line like it was dental floss.
We went way, way offshore on that long-range boat, Capt. Elliott’s Gulfstream, before Hurricane Gilbert chased us back in, but not before you were able to land some amberjack that were at least three-quarters the size of the state record you caught in ’79. Those pictures ended up in the 25th anniversary issue of Salt Water Sportsman. Ike took that magazine from me, but despite all his fury, still couldn’t steal the memories we forged so far out on the Gulf that blazing week in August.
We hunted snow geese in Altair, thrilled to simply be out there, listening to thousands of birds loudly squawking from the roost a mile away. When they took to the air it was as if God Himself had issued the command, and when they passed over us we almost didn’t shoot, so thoroughly engaged we were in just relishing the magnificent sights and sounds.
We anchored up on the redfish hole and fought, then released, countless big bulls. We chased the kingfish out of Freeport in that little 21-footer, and saw a school of sharks the likes of which I’ve never seen since cruise beneath that little vee-hulled rig like a massive fleet of swimming submarines.
We hunted deer year after year at the family place. It was never spoken, but I knew after your bypass surgery you were only out there for the view. You passed on 10-point bucks long before we gained the management plan that now gives us a realistic shot at seeing them every season. You’d love to see what that plan has done for the place, for the hunt, for the anticipation of opening weekend.
Then again, I have a feeling you do see it. Maybe it’s just that it’s Father’s Day; maybe it’s just me waxing sentimental; but I don’t think so. You were indeed a man with a soul, the kind of man that any guy on the face of the planet would be honored and privileged to call “Dad,” and by virtue of that I know that you are with me every day, in times both good and bad.
It’s a time-worn cliché, but we don’t miss our water until the well runs dry. I knew we were on a timeline. We all did. Still, when the final day ultimately arrived none of us were ready for it.
None of us were ready to say goodbye.
And so I won’t.
Instead, I will keep on keeping you in my prayers, and wish you Godspeed every single day. I will say a prayer of thanks to the Lord that He put you in my life, in the lives of all of us. And as much as anything, I will pray that the men and women whose fathers are still alive will stop to realize that it is a temporary situation, one that can and will someday cease to exist without the slightest bit of sympathy or negotiation.
I used to close the SportsRadio 610 Outdoor Show with a quote shared long ago by the pastor of a small nondenominational church. More than a few listeners commented on it. Some, they told me, even acted on it.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a blessing.”
Indeed it is, especially for those whose dads are with them today, people who can still shake hands and share bear hugs and contemplate challenges and victories, who can still head outside with their fathers for a memorable morning in the field.
You and I know better than anyone. Although life is finite, memories last forever.
But first you have to make them happen.
For those who can, there will never be a better day than today to start working on that.
Goodbye for now, Dad. And Happy Father’s Day.
I’ll be talking to you soon.


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