He lays quietly curled in the comforting fetal position he so prefers. He’s so thin. Sometimes confused, sometimes lashing out, usually just tired. The undecorated walls of this dimly lit room are haunting. The curtains closed, no chairs to encourage you to sit and visit, no hint of familiarity. The smells are, well, unforgettable. Oh if you could only forget.
Having never been a chatty fella, visits are strained and usually relatively short lived. The unspoken push-pull of guilt and love ticks away the moments very slowly. One word answers or grunts are the standard. Occasionally, he tells a story about this or that “crazy guy” in the home, and his cussing flares up and his pride shows a glimpse of the commander. His belly laugh and twinkle in his eyes at a funny story or joke, his tears when he hears about something that makes him remember home, family, life. Each moment is painful. Each moment is bitter sweet. It’s hard to visit, I don’t do it near enough. There’s that guilt thing. He doesn’t remember. There’s that bargaining thing.
I remember all the Christmases as Santa, the hidden Easter baskets, the camping trips, learning to fly fish, the treasures from a trip abroad…I wish that dad was here. I feel ashamed of that thought. I miss that dad. I love my dad, of course. It’s just different. It’s foreign.
Dad, Commander Robert John, you are loved. You’ve not been perfect, I’ve not been perfect, but we’ve done the best we knew how. I couldn’t have walked in your shoes. I’m proud of you. You risked everything to serve our country. You gave everything for your family. Dad, I love you. Happy Father’s Day.