Backstory: He grew up in hard times, the son of a hard Dad and a hard Mom. Part of that was what made him the hard Man that he had turned into. No two people knew that better than his wife and his son. His son was an only child and grew up at the hands of an attentive, but very hard Father.
The Father wasn't mean on purpose, that much he knew, but it often times appeared mean to the outside world, to his Mom and even sometimes to the son. The son tried hard to measure up and to never disappoint his Father, but as is often the case during the early years, those disappointments always came.
Fast forward ahead some 30-odd years and the boy is grown with a family of his own. The Father is retired now and sickly, very sickly. So sick, in fact, that he is on the transplant list for a new kidney. The son offers his own kidney, but the Father will hear none of it. No chance, not going to happen, he says. The son knows his Father well enough to drop the subject, because his opinion is not going to change. Not now, not ever.
Five more years go by and the Father dies from the kidney failure. His wife, the son and his family, at his side. After five or six years on the dialysis machine, his heart finally gave out and he had a massive heart attack and died the next day with the son holding his hand as he took his last breath.
A month or so prior to his death, the son and Father spend a weekend together, talking about the future and the past, about things accomplished and things left to do. The Father has a very specific list of things that the boy is to do after he is gone, number one being to take care of his Mom.
The Father goes on to open up about years past and about some very specific moments when he was most proud of his son. The son is speechless, with tear filled eyes. He has no idea how to take this, never having seen this side of his Father in 36 years. One month later, he's gone.
The wife and the son handle the business and soon enough, four and a half years have passed. It seemed like only yesterday at every turn:
Thanksgiving, Christmas, their Anniversary, the Anniversary of his death and his birthday. All these events triggered memories in the son and made him miss his Father even more. He hadn't shared a close relationship with his Father until the last few years, but those were the most enjoyable years of all to the son.
More Backstory: When the son was young, the Father went deer hunting every year for a week at a time, right before Thanksgiving. The boy badly wanted to go with him, but was never considered old enough. He saw in his Father's eyes how much he enjoyed that time, whether it was the actual hunt or the solitary time spent out there in the woods, he didn't know, but he did know that his Father very much enjoyed going hunting.
Finally at the age of ten, the boy was allowed to go with the Father for a weekend hunt. He sat in the woods with a little pellet gun and fired at squirrels, hitting nothing, but he was out there, with his Father, trying in vain to find out where the allure was for his Father.
The next year, he hunted in the stand with his Father. It was the only time he could ever remember not seeing his Father with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The smoke, you see, would give away their position, so he chewed tobacco during the hunt. Some memories stick out much stronger than others and the image of his Father without a cigarette was etched in the boy's memory right then and there.
Again, fast forward 30-odd years and the boy is sitting in the woods, just two short weeks ago now. It is the opening day of muzzle-loader season in his home state and the boy is hunting with some good friends. It is his first deer hunting trip in 28 years and first ever without his Father at his side.
He sits there in the middle of the woods, before the sun comes up and the memories are flooding over him. There is no hunting to do yet, just remembering. Remembering how much his Father had loved that part of the day and the fact that he loved being out in the woods. Remembering how he fidgeted in the stand waiting impatiently for the first light to see if there were any deer around. Remembering everything about his Father during those times so vividly that it felt like he was sitting right next to him on the ground in those woods.
Suddenly, the sun was up and not 30 minutes later, the boy had his first deer on the ground. He had made a fairly difficult 60-yard shot through some trees and dropped his deer on the spot. The Father would have been so proud, he thought, if he had only been there to see it.
After thirty minutes of the ugly part of deer hunting, he was back in the stand, awaiting more deer to show up. He sat there for nearly four more hours, waiting and watching, but mostly basking. Basking in the fact that he now knew why his Father loved it in the woods and knowing that his Father was watching over him, every step of the way. Not just in the woods, during deer season, but throughout his day to day life.
He felt his Father's hand on his shoulder and saw the wide smile that was so rarely seen from him in the past. He knew his Father was proud and this time, there was no denying it. He felt like he had gotten to sit in that deer stand all morning with his Father and the memories and feelings he displayed were something foreign to him.
You see, the boy had grown up hard, the son of a hard man, and he rarely, if ever, showed his emotions either. The realization that he was just like his Father came over him in a flood of tears later that day. Of course, he shook it off and nobody else saw it, just like his Father would have done before him, but nevertheless, he realized something about himself that morning out in the woods.
Yes, his Father was a hard man and was hard on him, but you know what, that's okay. He never wore his emotions on his sleeve and he was never a hugger, at least not until right at the end., but the boy realized something else about his Father that day in the woods. He loved him unconditionally more than he loved life itself and you surely cannot ask for more than that.
Two thoughts for you if you've read this far:
1) If your Father is still alive, call him on the phone or go visit him. Do not let the time slip by because you are "too busy" or you have "too many things going on." You will regret that you didn't spend enough time with him while he was still alive, I promise you that.I spent most of my life as the boy in the story above, searching and "hunting" for ways to please my Dad and I never truly realized that I had achieved any of that until it was too late for us to enjoy it together. I was always "too busy" during my adult life or had "too many things going on" to stop and spend time with him. Don't let that happen to you, love your family and make sure they know that you do.
2) If you are a Father, let your kids know that you love them unconditionally right now, don't wait for a specific moment that might never come. Do it now, hug them and kiss them every single day of their lives, because you never know just how long that might be.
Gary Cox is a writer and poker player from Oklahoma.