Remembering my first real hero

“I have won and I have lost; I got it right sometimes, but sometimes I did not; Life’s been a journey; I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret …”

— Colton Dixon, “Through All Of It”


Thinking about one’s own mortality can be a moment-freezing, life-flash-before-your-eyes type of thing. And what may set it off could be any number of things.

For me, especially on this date, it is thoughts of my dad that makes me think deeper than usual about where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going in life.

It was 12 years ago today that I lost my dad to a short battle with emphysema and, it was suspected, lung cancer thanks to nearly 50 years of smoking. He was exactly one month past his 67th birthday. Today, I wonder about his journey — if he won and lost; had joys and regrets like I have.

My dad, like his father before him, was an IBMer. Because of that, we moved a few times when I was a kid, and I think that helped to instill a little nomad in me. And I think my dad was hoping that I, too, would carry on the tradition of being an IBMer.

I did, in fact, work at IBM in Endicott, N.Y., under a six-month intern program, but I learned quickly that, despite pretty good pay and benefits, I had no interest in becoming a zipper-head (a popular local term used to describe IBMers).

Dad never pushed his hopes for my future on me. Instead, he allowed me to forge my own way — though I usually knew he expected me to do well at whatever I chose and find a way to do better than he did. Of course, back then, my future consisted of about one week ahead of where I was at the moment and usually had something to do with sports and friends.

Dad helped develop my early interest in sports. We spent plenty of evenings out in our Upstate New York or northern New Jersey or central Connecticut yard tossing a baseball; we spent a good part of the winter nights building ramps of snow and pouring water over them to freeze so I could use them for Snurfing the next day; we often watched “The Game of the Week” during the baseball season on Saturdays; and the two of us played many games of softball and rounds of golf together later in life.

Because of all that, my mother’s oft-used threat of “wait ‘til your father gets home” usually had an entirely different meaning for me — though sometimes it meant exactly what she intended.

As is expected from young’uns, my father’s children did make some bad choices. A few were real doozies. That’s usually when we saw one of two sides from my dad that were both rare and surprising. he could put his arm around our shoulder and say “let’s walk,” and proceed to tell us how badly we messed up, what we should have done and what the consequences were going to be; or he might grab us by the shoulders, press us against the wall, get nose-to-nose and bark almost incoherently.

The latter often would spark a “let’s walk” about an hour later.

Later on, when there was little or no threat of us copying his feat, my dad told his children about one of his worst decisions, which included dismantling a manure spreader with his friends, hauling the parts up three stories to the top of the Board of Education building in town and reassembling it.

We could all imagine my dad and his friends found themselves in deep do-do over that one.

So while this week has been filled with remembering dad, I’ve thought about how he really was my very first hero. After all, I can remember thinking he could do everything and he knew everything. When I needed a doghouse for my very first pet, he built what I thought was the Taj Mahal of doghouses; when I got hit in the head by a pitch in Little League, he was the first to come scoop me up; when I didn’t know how to ask a girl for my first date, he helped me; and when I couldn’t figure out how to drive one of those old manual-shift fire trucks, he taught me.

And of course, there was so much more.

I’ve found myself lately trying to compare myself to the kind of man my dad was. I never recall wanting to be better than him, but I also don’t think I was focused on being just like him — though in many ways, I know I am.

I know that I have more faith than my dad did, and I know I’ve had many more “life experiences” than he did. But I will always give the nod to him when it comes to how he treated his children and what he sacrificed for them even after they became adults. I benefited from that … sometimes too much.

And though I spent about 20 years living several states away, the most I have ever missed my father has been these past 12 years. There have been a few times along the way, like on his birthdays, when I’ve looked up and said, “let’s walk,” but the conversation is always way too one-sided.

There is a line from the book “Cancer Ward” by Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that goes “If your children are no better than you are, you have fathered them in vain, indeed you have lived in vain.”

Nothing my dad did was in vain.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.
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