Seventeen years…

At 6:25 PM tonight, my dad will have been dead for seventeen years.  It’s odd how this day is more easily remembered than his birthday, or any birthday for that matter.  My dad was a good man with a tender heart.  He could cry easily, but he was strong.

For years he was a top narcotics officer with the Gregg County Sheriff’s Department in Longview, TX.  His arms were solid like granite.  He loved fishing and hunting.  I remember many Saturdays running in front of his mower to pick up sticks and pine cones.  He was a country boy, and could survive.  He taught me how to shoot a pistol and a shotgun, how to aim a rifle, and how to skin a buck or a squirrel.  He loved to cook things like stew or chili or gumbo, and he could split wood with one swing of an ax.

He knew how to dance.  I remember watching him grab my stepmother spontaneously with some country ballad playing in the background and spin around the kitchen or the living room.  I remember when he threw me a “sock hop” in our garage, and deejayed the event himself.  I remember my embarrassment at watching him demonstrate to my sixth grade friends the proper way to mash potato or twist.  I’d give anything to see him lively and happy like that again.

I was with my daddy when I smoked my first cigarette, just because I asked him if I could try it.  I was with him when I opened my first beer, and took my first shot of Southern Comfort.  I remember my dad catching me kiss Courtney in our back yard, and I remember hiding in the bushes down the street when he drove the block at midnight to check and see if Corey and I were causing trouble.

He taught me to ride a bicycle, to drive a car, and to change the oil.  I remember when he picked me up from school in a giant Mercury, and in a sporty GT convertible.  I remember the day I loaned my dad $1000.00 from my savings account, and I remember the day he paid it back.

Sitting on my desk is his Bible.  In the front of his Bible is a picture of Samson grinding out the grain in the basement of a Philistine temple.  I think my daddy felt like Samson at times, especially toward the end.  Yellowed from liver damage, weak from atrophied muscles, easy chores became difficult for him.  I remember the winter day when I found him with blood coming out of the corners of his mouth, seizing on the floor of our garage while trying to stack firewood.  I remember the night he wet the bed, as a grown man, unable to get out in time to use the bathroom.

I remember helping him shave, or tie his shoes, or comb his hair.  In the end, my father was very sick, and there were days that I was alone with him.

This morning I went out with two men from our church to pass out 300 tracts and church invitations to homes in our community.  They went together, I walked alone.  I’m kinda glad that very few people were home, because they would have seen the red, puffy eyes and the tear tracks running down my cheeks.

I wonder to myself how he would have responded to some of the things I now face.  My dad would defend what he loved with everything he had.  Like the time he broke through a locked bathroom door and pulled my stepmother off of me, releasing my arm from behind my back where she was threatening to break it.  He would spend his last dime to help a Hispanic man named Manuel and his family have a better Thanksgiving or Christmas.

In Longview, Texas, there is a grave.  In that grave is the body of a man named Stroud.  Seventeen years past have robbed me of his counsel, his correction, and his embrace.  In nine years, I will have outlived him.  But at least I have thirteen years of life with my dad to think about on days like today.  When I’m 39, will I have spent my time in such a way that somebody sheds a tear of gratitude for my love?  Or will I have wasted precious energies on fighting battles that mean nothing for eternity, or opposing men whose children cry when they read the things I write?

To those who didn’t know my dad, he was an unemployed alcoholic.  To me, he was a hero.

To me, some men are scoundrels and tyrants.  To their own children, they are daddy.

Not bad thoughts to have while trying to reach your community for Christ.