Something seemed amiss with Mom when I walked in saying hi. She just got off the phone and wasn't her usual cheerful self, seeming absorbed with something on her mind. She bounced back, however, and fixed my sandwich and sat with me while I ate. As I finished, she said she must go on an errand and I should go on back to school early. She hugged me and said she'd see me after school. I had no idea what was going on but I knew something wasn't quite right.
Arriving back at school twenty minutes before the class bell rang, I joined in on a kickball game and forgot all about what was going on back home. Then in our first afternoon class we studies Virginia history before attending the weekly student assembly in the school auditorium. We were watching a National Geographic educational film about wildlife in the Arctic region when I was tapped on the shoulder by Miss Harris, my teacher, telling me I was called to the Principal's office. Oh, no, I thought, what have I done. Principal Lucille Wheeler was a disciplinarian of the first order and when summoned it usually wasn't for something good. She had a different countenance on this day as she gently told me that my father died over a hour ago. She hugged me and told me how sorry she was and sent me home with Mrs. Lee, a neighbor who came to escort me.
That kind neighbor told me something very important on the walk home. She said I should always be thankful that I knew my father well, for her father died when she was less than one year old and she only knew him through pictures. That stuck with me for a lifetime as I think about those much less fortunate than me who never saw their dad, while I knew my dad as a kind and conscientious man who always put his family first.
Dad was buried on Sunday on a cold winter day and I remember the large crowd, the flowers and how everyone was so kind, but I refused to go to school the next day. Mom was worried about me and talked to my pediatrician who just told her to be patient and let me work it out for myself. By Thursday, I realized that feeling sorry for myself was not going to do me any good and that evening Mom and I had a long talk. It was the first time I saw her cry since we learned of Dad's death and she let them flow. But then she looked up at me, wiped the tears out of her eyes and said something very profound.
"Son," she said, "we will be fine. The life will be different but we will be fine. Your job is to help me and your big sister and brother to make this a family again. We'll always miss Dad but God had other plans. Now we must make the most of it. And go ahead and stay home tomorrow and think about that, for one of your friends will bring all the homework you missed. I want you to do it this weekend and then get back to school on Monday."
Well, that afternoon, my friend Bobby did indeed arrive with my homework assignments, but he did more than that. He invited me to come play football down the street, something that we usually did nearly every afternoon after school. I joined in the game and it brought me back, that and the words of my mom. And I decided to move on, to try to grow into the man that my father would have expected of me and to live my life to the fullest.
Now, in my older years, I remember that event on that day so long ago like it was yesterday. But I look at it differently, for I know that perhaps God's plan was for me to be independent and learn to do things for myself. After all, my dad had a tough upbringing, but he worked his way through college and medical school to become a doctor. He would have probably spoiled me rotten like so many self-made fathers do, wanting an easier life for his children than he had himself. And while I chose a different path, I did make my own choices and never asked anyone else for anything for nothing. And as I look today at a society when so many expect things to be given to them, things which they never fully appreciate for they never earned them, I am glad that life required me to look at things the way I do.
And now, on this cold November 30th, I have shared that day with others as I do every year. And now it's time to turn to the joy and happiness of the season which I start tomorrow on the "Road to Christmas." And to dear Dad looking down on me from heaven above, I can just imagine the wonder s\what Christmas must be like up there in the heavenly realm. I am sure it is beautiful beyond human comprehension. And something else, Dad, I plan to one day come home like you have and see you and Mom together again in a grand reunion. Won't that be something?