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After a year….

A year. A long time; a short time. I’m older. The people around me are, too. From people like my mother, who have many years under their belts, to some of the kids that I teach, who are excited about things that make me smile and feel nostalgic (and sometimes happier for not having to deal with those issues anymore). How does one truly measure a year? A lot differently after the death of my father.

My father lived a life that I envy. He was a conservation officer, a poet, a writer, a huntsman, a military man, and may more things, but above all else he was a true father. No matter what, he was there for me, my mother, my brother, and anybody else who needed it. He may have told you his thoughts about religion while he did it, but he did it, and did it with a smile. My father was truly happy. Jonah may have cursed God about having to preach to a town that didn’t deserve it, but my father never cursed God about a condition that was the primary cause of his death. No, my father used his devout faith and his love of his family to hold on for more years than any other dialysis patient around. My father held on to teach my brother and I how to be men.

At the time of my father’s death a year ago to this day, I didn’t know what to do. Like many in that situation, my brother and I got wrapped up in being strong for my mother and the things you have to do when a loved one passes away. My strength lasted for the most part, except for one particular time…. My brother and I took care of cleaning up one particular area where my father sat. It was his area, his chair, a chair only he sat in. As we were cleaning, I found something that broke down every shield I had. I found, carefully concealed, my recorder from the 5th grade. It was something I’m sure I set aside after I got into middle school. I had forgotten all about it. But my father hadn’t. He kept it around as a constant reminder of my love of music. It was such a simple, pure gesture of his love that I couldn’t fight it. It was things like that that defined my father. Sometimes gruff on the outside, stern when necessary, but he always had his mind on his family.

I have now passed my first birthday after my father’s death. Just a couple of years ago, I would have looked at my birthday as just really an excuse to go out to a nice dinner and break my diet. But now, and forevermore, my birthday will serve as reminder of my father. This is mainly of course due to the timing of it all, my father having begun his final stay in the hospital almost if not on (I can’t remember) my birthday. I remember that last year I spent most of my birthday thinking about my father and this year is no exception. But I will also forever remember my father around my birthday because he serves as a reminder of how a life should be lived. As the years go on, I feel more of time creeping up on me. My joints pop more, I ache, I have to actually watch what I eat (not just for fat’s sake, but because of possible indigestion), make sure I sleep enough, etc. Through it all, though, I remember the life of a man who went through far worse without complaining, without making excuses, and all of my thoughts of complaining about my lot in life fall to the side. I will get older. There is no stopping it. As Terry Pratchett said in his book Reaper Man (and I’m paraphrasing), you’re not long in this world before you find out that you already have your return ticket punched. I think everybody sooner or later realizes that they are going to die someday, be it from accident, illness, or simply running out of life, but what I think truly defines a person is what they do after they know. Do you get paralyzed by the fear of death, worried that you could die any minute? Do you live resigned to the fact, eating away each day with sarcastic bites? Or perhaps do you follow blindly in your faith, telling any who ask that you are going to a better place when you die? No, I think the right thing to do, and probably what my father did, is accept it and move on.

Am I afraid of what might happen when I die? Sure, who isn’t? I’m afraid of many things, everything from that there isn’t actually an afterlife (only emptiness) to that there is one but many people I know won’t be there because they don’t believe what I believe. Should I be sarcastic about death? No, but I think if you can’t accept death with at least a hint of a smile you will live in fear. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be happy about it when it comes, but I do think acceptance is much better than resignation. Should I blindly trust in faith? No, I’ve found that blind faith can cause you to stop accepting possibilities. I have faith and I have beliefs, and I trust that I always will, it’s just that I’ve found from going through life that people have many, many different ideas concerning faith, and who am I to judge what’s right or wrong? I have problems figuring out where to go or what to eat for dinner, what book I should read next, who should have won the figure skating competition, etc., etc. As with most people, I’m probably the last one who should judge what should happen to either myself or another person after I die. How could I possibly judge the fate of another person who lives on the other side of the world? I know nothing about them. They could be as ruthless as Hitler or as great as the Pope (and even with those two examples I wouldn’t want to be the judge), so who am I to tell them that they are going to hell if they don’t believe what I do? I don’t think that God put us on the Earth to be mindless drones. If he wanted that, we’d know. No, I think that in the end part of our tour in life is to find God in our own way, and to accept how others find him. If I can do that, then perhaps I too can be as secure in my faith as my father was in his own.

As I look ahead in life to the possibility of becoming a father someday, I’m stricken with both hope and fear. Will I do the right things? Can I be a father to my child as my father was to me? Should I be? Will I, can I, should I…. These are all questions that I know have been asked by both fathers and mothers for generations never ending. I know, though, that these questions have neither right nor wrong answers. All I will be able to do is my best at the time. I know that hindsight has 20/20 vision and is aided by the Hubble telescope, and I know of many points when I was growing up or even afterward that either my father or myself could have treated a situation better. But I do also know that the mistakes in life can shape us even more so than the successes do. Does that give me carte blanch to make all the mistakes that I want? No, but I know that the knowledge passed down to me by my father will aid and comfort me when I do make those mistakes.

On this day 1 year ago, my father passed away.

I miss you Dad.

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