Monday, March 16, 2009

The voice I'll never hear again

Dad's gone.

The news arrived in today's mail, in a fat envelope of obituaries sent by my mother and sister, twelve days after his death. No doubt that sounds odd, but I've been estranged from my parents, who live 700 miles away, for the last five years.

The reasons for our stubborn silence, which was my doing, may be relevant but aren't worth recounting here. It'll have to suffice to say that estrangement is something of a tradition on my father's side of the family. He and I were casualties of this generation's wedge, and that's that.

Dad raised me honestly and well, if sternly. He taught me that there was no higher human purpose than a commitment to tell the truth, keep my promises and clean up my messes. Laziness and excuses were unacceptable. On balance, we were more combative than we were close -- but then, both of us were far better at argument than affection.

Like most children and all sons, I didn't embrace my father's example until after I became an adult. His beacon grew naturally brighter as I grew older.

Born in a rural Ohio farmhouse, a child of The Great Depression, Dad worked harder than anyone I've ever known. He was a great storyteller and an even better man, accomplished in his profession and possessing a brilliant intellect, earning the respect of everyone who knew him.

He had mine. He knew that. I'm certain that he doubted it as well.

A few months ago, I very nearly sent him a letter of reconciliation. I don't harbor regret over not having done so -- regrets, like excuses, are ex post facto delusions that make life appear tidier and more sensical but otherwise serve no end. I accept responsibility for my choices, as I'm sure that Dad did, without leaning on wobbly emotional crutches.

My relationship with my father was complete a long time ago. That's no inoculant against sadness, of course -- I cried when I opened that envelope today, and surely I have more tears still to shed.

The tears welling in my tired, aging eyes come from knowing that his voice, which I haven't heard in several years, is one that I'll never hear again.

No, that's not right -- I hear it every day.

Hell, I speak with his voice.

Thanks, Dad. Godspeed.