Mike note: I realize Father’s Day is a week off but there’s a time element to today's blog, which goes a little longer than usual.
My dad story:
I grew up in a family of six kids, with me checking in at No. 4. Mom and Dad were loving parents and we had a fairly traditional life in the Detroit suburbs.
I went away to college and then to my first job right after graduation in Big Rapids, four hours north of home.
Mom passed away in July 1982 and from then on it was a growing family and Dad.
Jumping ahead quite a bit, there came a time when I stopped drinking and started living a sober, Christian life in Florida.
I read in a Christian book that if there’s someone who’s important to me and I’m, you know, NOT SURE about their future, it’s my job to sort of make introductions.
I started thinking about that. We had the traditional Catholic family that went to church every Sunday, but I didn’t recall any serious conversations at home about God, Jesus, the Bible, and that sort of thing.
So I made up my mind to tell Dad about God.
I decided to fly to Michigan on Father’s Day, talk to Dad about God, and fly back the same day. Perfectly normal, right?
Father’s Day came and off to the airport I went. Flights went well and I showed up at Dad’s house as the nieces and nephews were playing in the yard. Dad, in his early 90s by then, was thrilled to see me.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked.
A while later we were sitting at the kitchen table when one of my sisters asked about my love life. This was pre-Deb, which means it was nonexistent.
When I said God would figure it all out, Dad said that’s what Mom used to say.
That was my in. “How are you doing with God?” I asked Dad.
He gave a half smile. “OK, I guess. Some days are better than others. It’s probably too late for me.”
I quickly answered: “Dad, it’s never too late!”
The conversation ended and the day went on. Eventually, it was time to get back to the airport. Dad walked me to my rental and slipped a $20 bill into my pocket cuz he’s my dad (and I do the same with my daughter).
I looked at him. “God did this to me,” I said. “God made me sober. God gave me life. God did all this.”
He said, “So you think I should get on board?”
“Yeah Dad,” I said, “I think you should.”
“OK,” he replied.
I kissed him and went home.
Time went by. We never discussed it again.
In 2014 I was hit with an illness that to this day hasn’t been diagnosed. It was brutal (still can be) and nothing was working. Lots of doctors and meds. I was miserable.
One night, talking with Dad on the phone, I was really missing him. We had a nice chat and were about to say goodnight.
Just before he hung up, the last thing he said was: “God bless you, son.”
I stared at the phone. Dad had never EVER said that to me.
I called him right back. “God bless you too, Dad!”
From that day forward, every conversation ended the same way.
“God bless you, Dad.”
“God bless you, son.”
Well, there came a day when I got the call to come home. Dad was in a hospice unit and his days were numbered. Dad was 97, had lived a long and fruitful life, and it was coming to an end.
The entire family gathered at the hospital. I brought my Bible and some of us read Scripture as Dad drifted in and out of dreamy consciousness. I don’t know how to describe it. He was there but not really, you know?
A few days passed and Dad was still with us. The hospice folks provided the siblings special alone time to say goodbye.
Well, another day passed and Dad’s hanging on. We’re wondering, who is Dad waiting for to say goodbye? The gardener?
That night alone in the house I grew up in, it dawned on me: When I said my goodbye, I didn’t say, “God bless you, Dad.”
I returned to the hospital. It was around 10:30 at night. My sister sat at his bedside as her son slept in another part of the room. I prayed a bit, then went to the other side of his bed.
I leaned down and kissed his cheek. “God bless you, Dad,” I said through tears.
And I could hear him: “God bless you, son.”
Dad died that next morning surrounded by a family that adored him. I was at the house sleeping.
June 4, 2015, is the day Dad went home to Jesus where he reunited with his true love. The thought of my parents dancing in Heaven makes me smile.
I think often of those last few years and the grace God gave me to know Dad in a way far beyond my understanding. I’ll join him one day and after an embrace, I fully expect:
“God bless you, Dad.”
“God bless you, son.”
Have a special Father’s Day week, my friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.