Friday, June 16, 2006

A Father’s Day message in the living years

Before health issues kicked my career to the ditch, I was involved in Texas community journalism for 30 years. In that time period, I wrote more than 1,500 columns, on all topics imaginable – from sports to politics, religion to child-rearing, from farce to fantasy.
When asked (and it was often) when I would bring forth the next great American novel, I always told people that wasn’t my thing; I was a columnist. I liked the style, I liked the impact and I liked the length. As the John Belushi character accurately stated in the movie “Continental Divide,” “It’s just the right size for me.”
However, I have toyed and tinkered with a concept of re-packaging my very best columns into a compilation effort, reworking them as letters to my late father, in which I pretend that they are long, lost never-penned offerings that I probably should have taken the time – at some point – to write.
In truth, I am one of those “greeting card” kind of people who Hallmarks (yes, for this blog, it IS a verb) often – not just for Christmas or Valentine’s Day. I correspond on birthdays, anniversaries, St, Patrick’s Day and Chanukah. I do it if you’re sick, or happy, or if I miss you when you’re far away.
But it’s tough to “Hallmark” to someone who isn’t here anymore. Like one’s father. It’s even harder to put those thoughts in collective form and expect other people to buy them, read them and want to laugh, cry or think about the content. Some will just see it as an “issues” thing and they might be correct.
Enough paper has been shredded already on drafts and rewrites to restock the Sam Houston National Forest in East Texas. It hasn’t exactly come together like a well-made quiche, but when the inspiration strikes, I give it the old college try.
Except I’m not in college anymore and I am getting old.
Still, Father’s Day is approaching, and for many of us, there is no “father” to honor anymore … yet SO much still to say to him.
At each newspaper which employed me, I published the same Father’s Day tribute at least once following my Dad’s death in 1993. It contained the lyrics to a Grammy-nominated song by Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years.” The words speak of estrangement, regret and a man’s future without his rudder and the chorus ended with this line, “I wish I could have known him/In the living years.”
Instead of a greeting card, or two dozen chapters of reworked prose, I think I’d find an old postcard from a vacation trip – to California or Oregon or upstate New York or Mackinac Island, Mich. or the desert of Arizona – and write the following brief message:
Dear Dad,
Wishing you were here. Kids are growing. I’m surviving. Given all that has happened, good or bad, I’m happy.
And I wish I could have known you better in your living years.
Love, your son

I’m not sure there’s enough postage to get that delivered.
My hope for this Father’s Day is for any of you with fathers still in their living years to jot down words of meaning; words of love; words of the heart – on a greeting card, postcard or, heck, a playing card. Put it in his hand and let him know YOU sent it and wrote it.
Tell him how you feel and try to get to know him. Again.
In the living years that are left.

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