Five years ago today, my father died.
My family and I had just moved from Fort Huachuca, Arizona to El Paso, Texas. The moving truck had arrived, and the crew was getting ready to start unloading our household goods.
Then I got the call.
I remember thinking, “This isn’t real. Dad can’t be dead.”
But it was. He had died of a stroke. On the floor of his living room.
The following day, my family and I drove from Texas to Arkansas, which is a really long drive, even if they are neighboring states. Neigh-boring … sounds like a monotoned horse.
At the funeral, my brothers and I were in uniform. It was the first time since I retired that I shaved my face or put my dress uniform on. I tried to speak at the reception, but I choked. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. The sadness I felt kept me from speaking.
Once the casket was on display at the cemetery, my brothers and I marched in time to our father. Our right arms, rigid with grief, raised themselves to execute our final salute. As my finger touched the brim of my hat, a rouge, undisciplined tear made its escape. Down my cheek and disappearing into the wool collar of the dress blues.
Our arms lowered as slowly as they had raised. My brothers executed an about face and stepped away. At their departure, my hands snapped to the brim of my drill sergeant hat, removed it, and moved it towards my father.
He told me once when I visited him that he had always wanted to be a drill instructor, a TI, I think. He was in the Air Force. He had a very successful career, but he never got to do that one thing. As my drill sergeant hat found its final resting place on my father’s casket, I remembered that story.
That was five years ago. And I thought of him today, this morning actually, when I hobbled out to the porch to have my morning cigarette. My joints hurt, especially my ankle. Then I thought of my dad. He did the same thing everyday, at almost the same time. He listened to his radio shows, drank his beer, and sat on the porch.
I know he wanted his sons to visit more often than we did, but we didn’t. We were too busy. We blamed the wars. We blamed our divorces. Life.
As I sat on my front porch this morning, my heart sank as I thought of all the moments he must have sat alone, wishing his sons were sitting with him. Looking out at the woods behind the fence. Wondering when he would get another visit.
I wish he was sitting on my porch.