Motes of pollen floated in the air momentarily emblazoned gold by shafts of morning sunshine as I walked through the rock-strewn Ozark hills.
A mature gobbler lay warm and jostling over my right shoulder and the Mossberg that killed him leaned cold against my left. Behind my eyes, the familiar sting of tears forming reminded me that the thing I most wanted to do in that moment was impossible. I wanted to call my Dad.
A month and a half earlier, Dad passed away at home at age 63. I’ll never forget the call from my brother Andy, or the words he spoke when I answered the phone.
“Tim, I think Dad’s gone.”
Dad had been sick for years and we knew his days were growing short, but we could never fully be ready to say farewell. Besides, he had already bought his Winchester turkey loads and new calls for the upcoming spring season. We had plans. This wasn’t supposed to happen until, “someday.”
In the months following his death, it became clear to me that losing a father puts a person into an unenviable club; an association of people who know things only experience can teach. People who know the value of a father in ways others cannot, the ones who nod their head with an affirming familiarity as you tell them your story. Here are some of the things we seem to have in common.
We still try to call.
It’s been three months since Dad’s passing and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about calling him. It’s not always because I miss him either. Usually I just want to call and update him on my latest trip into the field. The hardest times are when the greatest things happen…like being asked to do television for MidWest Outdoors, a show Dad and I watched all the time when I was growing up. My friends whose Dads have been gone for decades tell me this urge never quite goes away. They still catch themselves trying to dial up their fathers.
We want you to cherish the time with your Dad.
I recall a conversation with my neighbor Hank from a few years back. Dad had just pulled some caper that put the family in full tilt and I was venting my frustration. After he got done listening, Hank didn’t reference any of Dad’s shenanigans. He only said, “I don’t know Timmy. You’ve got to hug him and love him all you can now because one day he won’t be around.”
Wasn’t he listening? Didn’t he hear all the details about what Dad had done?
He did, but having lost his Dad when he was just a kid, it didn’t matter. At the time I had a Dad and he only wished he did. All Dads have their issues, but we have them for such a short time. Don’t wait for them to be perfect before you love and forgive them.
We remember things differently.
Anyone who knew my Dad knew he wasn’t close to perfect. He did things that, on more than one occasion, got me so fired up that I could have ended him right then and there. But the things that annoyed me about him then, have somehow become endearing to me now. The smell of a Marlboro Light cigarette smoldering. The not-so-subtle ways he used to try to get me to take him to get fast food. The political arguments we’d get into. I miss those things now because I realize I’ll never get to relive those experiences in this life.
We’re a little embarrassed.
Mostly with how patient we only now realize our Dads were with us. Most guys aren’t big on taking advice, or directions, or instructions on how to put something together, let alone when that direction comes from their kids. When I think about the arguments Dad and I had, it amazes me that he didn’t just tell me to shut up. I’m not saying I was usually wrong, but the fact that he would even engage in the argument is more than some would do. It was his way of partially legitimizing my point of view.
I always tried to be respectful when I disagreed with him. Looking back, I can see the times when he graciously let my overstepping slide.
We have sacred places.
A couple weeks after Dad had passed I was back in our hometown for work. One of his favorite places to fish was where the Fox River mingled its algae-green waters with those of the Illinois. That contrast of water just below the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge held walleye, sauger, flathead and channel cats along with a host of rough fish. One summer evening as Dad and I were soaking bluegills for big flatheads, a fisherman up the bank from us reeled in a fresh water eel. That water held all manner of surprises.
Sitting in the parking lot overlooking that stretch of riverbank after Dad passed was difficult. It highlighted the critical nature of the confluence of time and place. If I could somehow go back in time five or ten years, I might see his truck parked there in the lot and him standing down by the water with his dingy white tackle bucket bouncing a jig along the river bottom. I wanted to memorialize that place. I wanted to tell every fisherman and cyclist and walker that passed by that this was one of Bill Kjellesvik’s favorite fishing spots. Those of us who have lost our Dads know the power held by the places they frequented.
I’m sure there are more similarities shared by the fellowship of those who have lost their fathers…but I am still new to the club and have much to learn. Though I’m new to this club, to those who still have their Dads I can say this: Call your Dad and tell him that you love him.