A Memorial Day I’ll Never Forget
I woke this morning feeling really good. My daughters would be joining me for a trip to Stillwater for Memorial Day, with plans including a dinner and a trip to the cemetery where many of our loved ones are laid to rest. It would start with a good breakfast and workout, writing, the trip to Stillwater, and end with my reunion with dad. The soft and sensitive emotions of the day were completely over-powered by the joy of it all. This wouldn't be an ordinary Monday.
The plan for our dinner out with family included a buffet restaurant. I successfully talked everyone out of the buffet---and then convinced the fam that a calorie friendly trip to Taco Mayo would be perfect. You see, it’s not about the food, it’s about the company, the conversation…that’s what makes this time together special, not the price or quantity of the food. We’ve always gathered for holidays (except Christmas and Thanksgiving—we cook for those days), birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions at a big buffet place. Not today, and seriously---I think everyone appreciated the change and enjoyed the visit…and the food, I mean really---163-calorie beef tacos are awesome!
Our visit to the cemetery to place flowers on the graves of loved ones was good. It’s so hard to believe it’s been nine years since we lost Shane and three since we lost grandpa. Time moves so quickly, doesn’t it? We also stopped by and placed flowers on Irene’s grandparents Oliver and Bertha’s headstone. I showed the girls their grandfather’s name on the War Memorial Wall—and they were fascinated. There were so many memories and emotions swirling.
I think about Shane a bunch. My little brother wanted to be just like me. He looked up to me with an admiration I’m not sure I fully deserved. Like big brother, Shane struggled with his weight---and I know, without a doubt, if Shane were here today---he’d be losing weight right along with me. He would understand and follow me in whatever I would do. I love him so much and I miss him dearly. When I think of him, I always wish I would have taken more time with him…I thought we had more time.
We left the cemetery and headed North to Ponca knowing that my dad would be waiting on our arrival. My dad. My dad. It’s been 17 years since a troubled 21-year-old visited Alabama---trying desperately to enjoy the first meeting while being tormented by the issues and anger of the past. I wasn’t ready for any kind of positive relationship at that point in my life. I’ve written about this before. So for the sake of background information---here’s an excerpt from early on this journey:
One of the important things I knew I had to accomplish along this journey was reconnecting with my father. I did late last year and it was a wonderful thing. I completely let go of the past resentments and along the way discovered the meaning of real forgiveness.
The following is an excerpt from Day 106 titled “Physical and Emotional Health-Both Important”:
Today I did something that's very important to my emotional growth. And although it may not seem like it would make a difference on this journey, it does. This journey is about getting a complete understanding of everything that has made me who I am. To be the best person I can be inside and out, I need to fill some voids that have been with me way too long. It's a very long story, and extremely personal, but I'll try to give a quick abbreviated version.
The relationship between my Mom and Dad never survived long enough to see my birth on October 23rd 1971. My father was not a part of my life ever. As a kid, my mom would show me a picture of a man in uniform that “looked like” my dad. So at 19 I decided to find him. Armed with a couple of clues and a telephone, I found him within 45 minutes alive and well in Arab, Alabama. Any resentment and hard feelings over his absence in my life completely disappeared the moment he spoke. It was the most awkward moment of my life. What do you say to your father for the first time in your life at 19? I said “Whatever you do, don't hang up!” “I'm your son.” Well, he didn't hang up and we talked for a really long time that night. We exchanged pictures and phone calls several times over the course of a few months, then we planned a meeting.
My first trip to Alabama was too much to handle. We turned around after coming within 150 miles of his house. It wasn't until a couple of years or more later that we made the trip. We spent two weeks in Alabama and met almost the entire family. It turned out I had an aunt living in Midwest City, so we also visited her family down there. It was a wonderful experience, but still I just wasn't emotionally ready to handle it in a positive way. After that trip, I completely fell out of touch, and haven't really pursued contact since.
I've never met my two half brothers, and that's something that I really want and need to do. As for a relationship with my father? I'd really like to at least talk occasionally. I don't want to someday find his obituary on the Internet, and realize I don't have another chance to know him in some way. Over the last several months my father and I have exchanged e-mails, phone calls, and he even occasionally reads this blog. I just had a wonderful thirty-minute conversation with him this afternoon. His message to me was simple. He doesn't want me to live a life of regrets, he wants me to excel, and leave no stone unturned on my journey to a wonderful life. It's amazing how wonderful our very simple relationship is now, after letting go of the past. I'm learning that my dad is a very real, very good person, and like all of us, he's struggled with good and bad choices. He understands that choosing to not be a part of my life was a mistake. It's one that he regrets deeply, but we're past that now, and with the slate wiped clean with complete and total forgiveness, we can move forward to a mutually wonderful relationship.
I never got a chance to meet Danny, my older half brother. Before we could reconnect, he died from aortic dissection, a condition caused by years of uncontrolled high blood pressure, he was 42. I've haven't met, but I've connected via telephone with my younger half brother Silas. We hope to get a chance soon to meet face to face for the first time.
The drive home tonight was good. I didn’t have too much anxiety over the reunion we were driving towards. I just wanted to hug dad, tell him I love him, and spend some good times with him this week. And that’s exactly what we did and we’ll do. Sitting across the table from him tonight, as a man, is very different from the 21-year-old kid so long ago. I felt an undeniable comfort in that we had arrived at this moment. It’s a moment where the only thing that matters is the future. And it’s a future of communications, understanding, and most importantly---unconditional love.
Courtney and Amber both had a chance to meet their grandpa tonight. Amber was only 3 years old before and Irene was pregnant with Courtney. It was a wonderful moment. The girls are fascinated by the different characteristics that are similar between all of us. The eyes, the eye brows, my ear lobes that connect instead of hang down…little similarities that are very cool to discover. The girls will be staying with their mom this week as dad and I reconnect. They'll get to spend time with us too throughout the week, they'll just be sleeping at mom's place.
I can’t wait for Thursday night—when I get my mom and dad in the same room for the first time in my life. That picture we’ll take, the three of us, will not just live on a hard drive---it will be enlarged and properly framed and proudly displayed in my home for the rest of my days.
This journey has been so much more than just a physical transformation. It’s a physical, mental, and emotional journey---one day at a time, with good choices continuously evolving and transforming everything in it’s path. Without a doubt, life changing.
Thank you for reading. Goodnight and…
Born on Valentines Day 1977. He was so very special. Love you brother!
Grandpa’s name on the War Memorial Wall
Shane and Me
This is a “Lost” before picture. I’m sporting a mullet, I do believe---oh my, how embarrassing! With Shane and Mom.
With Dad just minutes after we arrived home tonight.