“Let’s go for ice-cream” his dad had said.
Not an unknown occurrence but strange in this case because it was just him and his dad. Usually a trip for ice cream included the boy’s step-mom as well as any other members of the now extended family who might be around.
It was sometimes a little awkward for the boy to be alone with his dad. His dad had traveled often and regularly for work and military obligations while the boy was growing up. On top of that the boy’s parents had divorced a few years earlier reducing visits to one week-end a month and two weeks in the summer. Still, the boy felt his father’s love even through those awkward moments and was proud of him and sought his approval in all things. For his part, the father sought the best for his son. Stern, but fair, an officer and pilot in the Air Force a role-model not withstanding the indiscretions that first led to the marriage to the boy’s mother and then to it’s end. His father had a strong sense of responsibility that obligated him to marry the boy’s mother when she found out she was pregnant and that same sense of obligation committed him to staying till the boy was 18 years old. Two later pregnancies extended the “contract” and was in effect till another woman entered the picture and caused the boy’s mother to end the relationship. It all seemed somewhat normal to the boy at the time. Only in looking back did it seem to be somewhat “dysfunctional.”
But the boy loved his father and the father loved his boy and that was all that mattered.
The boy’s dad had recently had a heart attack, brought on, in no small part, by years of smoking that at one time had seemed fashionable and reasonable. His heart had stopped beating for a time but the doctors got it started again. The memory of that phone call was already clouded in the boy’s mind such was the pain in hearing that news.
When the boy had visited his father in the ICU of the hospital his father whispered in a weakened voice, “Remind me to tell you something, it was not a dream.”
What he told the boy later, was what he saw when his heart had stopped. The hooded figures kneeling around him praying and the three people walking toward him from the light with arms outstretched. These three he “felt” were his mother and father and sister all of whom had died previously.
Taken with this vision, he told his son over ice cream, that if he ever had the chance again, he would not come back. The boy took in this news as well as any emotional, worry filled, hormonal 14 year old could be expected to.
Years passed and the boy grew and learned more about his father and they grew closer, closer than perhaps they had ever been. The boy began to write and shared his writing with his father. The day his father read some of his work and critiqued simply, “That’s pretty good,” stood out in the boy’s mind. One day after reading something the boy had written the boy’s father said “I want you to write my eulogy.” The boy was very proud.
Later, the boy turned 18 and moved out of the house and attended college. The days of mandatory visits were gone and the artificial importance of new found freedom and social life stole many visits together between dad and son.
One night the boy was roused from fitful attempts to sleep and urged, by what he was not sure, to write the eulogy for his father. He jotted a few lines down but left it undone because of the unreasonable, yet palpable feeling that rose within the boy that once he finished the eulogy, his father would die. With the begging Muse satisfied, the boy drifted into sleep.
Some time later the boy called his dad. These calls had become more frequent than visits since for 20yr olds a short drive of a few dozen blocks was such the inconvenience.
“Did I catch you at a bad time?” the boy asked. It was a fair bet since his dad now worked from the house and it was the middle of the day.
“Kind of busy right now,” his dad replied.
“Well, I’ll just talk to you later then.” The boy said.
This worked out well for the boy as friends were coming over that afternoon anyway. A bit of socializing before the boy’s play rehearsal. Play rehearsal in college took a lot of time, 3-4 hrs everyday and he had a major role. “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feeling So Sad,” the longest title ever on Broadway. A black comedy of a man-eating woman who carries her dead husband around with her (in the closet) as she travels, and her man-eating plant, and her stuttering boy (the boy’s part) who is, in the course of the play, seduced by the at first glance virginal “girl next door” who turns out to be anything but.
A few hours later the phone rang. With that phone call, the boy’s life began to fray about the edges, like paper held to close to a flame. His field of vision narrowed much as it had years before when he received that other phone call.
His father had another heart attack. “He’s gonna run out of chances,” he tried to joke, as he broke the news to his friends and they hurriedly and awkwardly made their exits.
The boy drove quickly to the hospital only to be told that the ambulance had gone to a closer hospital. “Can’t be good,” he thought. “Dad would never voluntarily go to that hospital.” He almost laughed at the thought but then reality flooded back like the returning tide.
As he pulled into the hospital parking lot he was met by long faces and tears of family and family friends who had already heard the news and made it there before him. His worst fears were realized and the worst pain of his young 20 years crushed down, crumpling him on the steering wheel in a flood of tears he did not care to hide.
The next few hours were a blur. After missing the first half he showed up at rehearsal much to everyone’s surprise. Nothing else to do he explained and it’s good to be busy.
The scene they rehearsed provided its own black comedy to the evening. The scene was of the seduction, where the “not so virginal girl next door” attempts to seduce the stuttering boy. In the midst of the scene, the closet door opens and out falls the boy’s father. “Who the hell is this!” the girl angrily screams. To which the stuttering 17 year old replied, “Its, my f-f-f father!”
Struck by the irony the boy replied, “Oh wow! Oh, wow!” The director stopped rehearsal and asked to see the boy outside.
The gruff, surly director was pacing. The boy thought he might be in trouble for stopping the scene. For once, the director seemed to be at a loss for words.
“Uh... um.... I realize, um….uh how,... ah...um...macabre this might seem in light of everything.” The director stammered.
The boy explained that there was no problem. In fact he found it funny. It was one of the few bright spots in the next few days. Those days swam about his mind like a dream. He slept a lot. Cried a lot. And strove to put on a brave face.
They toasted his father at the grave with a bottle of Cold Duck- one of his dad’s favorites.
“Put a bible on the mantle,” his dad had said, “and if there is any way possible to come back, I will and I’ll knock it off.”
The boy looked at the bible hanging limply off the corner of the mantle. He laughed remembering the request, but he did not move the bible.
There were many dreams about his father. Comforting and disturbing all at the same time. It was curious to note that his father did not seem to know him in these dreams, a fact that he brought up to his step-mother, Pam.
A few days later, another dream. The boy and his father were driving down the road a few blocks from his father’s house. The father was driving, the boy was in the passenger seat. The boy’s father looked at the boy and said,
“I understand you’ve been having dreams about me.”
“You’ve been talking to Pam,” the boy grinned in reply.
Many will say that the occurrence was just a type of mourning or wishful thinking but for the boy it was as real as the day was long.
The boy’s father leaned in a bit and said,
“I’ll always know you and I’ll always love you.”
Years later, the boy would share the story with his own sons and remind them that like his own dad and their Father in heaven, he would always know them and always love them. A fine legacy indeed.