When my dad passed away in November 1988, my mom was determined that I have his diamond ring. Given to him by his grandmother who raised him, the diamond is nearly two full carats in size and one I was proud to wear – for a while. The truth is I am just not a diamond kind of guy – it is just not my personality to wear gold, diamonds or other bling. With my mom’s permission I had the diamond reset into a ring for Lisa and always think of my dad when I see it sparkle on her hand.
She often has people comment about the size of the diamond and question if it is real. The stone has maintained luster all these years and most people who see it often comment about its beauty. But there is something most do know about the ring. It has a flaw. If you look closely into the center of the stone – you can see a dull, gray speck that may ultimately diminish its value. You have to look close and you have to know the ring well enough to know where to look. But there really is a flaw.
If there is one thing that is the perfect reminder for me of my father, it is that ring. Like all fathers, including myself, there are things to be proud of – things to gladly honor and brag about. But there are also flaws in every father on earth and my dad was no exception.
Today (July 5, 2014) would have been my father’s 97th birthday. I can’t believe that time has passed so quickly. But in thinking about him today I find myself appreciating not just the good things about him – but the flaws as well. Maybe only men can understand this – but it seems there is something almost innate in our maleness that demands that we find honor in our dads – no matter how flawed they may have been. Maybe time has a way of removing some of the painful memories of growing up and the many mishandled situations our fathers may have stumbled through. As a father myself, I know that fatherhood is the most difficult job in my life and often there are no helps available. There have been countless situations when I have looked for answers from my own experiences with my dad and come up empty. I realize that my dad and I have something in common – we are both flawed.
But the diamond ring still sparkles. My dad did an amazing job raising my brother and I and I am so appreciative of his life and dedication to his family. If I could point to one particular thing that made the difference for me it was that he was always available. My dad was not a great business success in his life – was a low ranking fireman for nearly thirty years with no ambition to be more than a hose man. But that did not matter to me. As a boy, there was nothing greater than seeing him in his uniform. I could not have cared less if he was captain, fire chief or multi-millionaire – he was my dad and that was really all that mattered. As a firefighter he worked twenty-four hours at a time but would then be off for forty-eight – so it seemed he was always home and always available to me. That was the greatest gift he gave me – himself and his time.
My brother and he never got along and the struggle he had with that relationship must have been made up with me. He never went anywhere without me by his side. He took me to every Owensboro Red Devil football game, every Kentucky Wesleyan basketball game, and we even took in a Pittsburgh Pirate baseball game once in 1970 in Cincinnati. When he had to go pay bills – I was with him. Unlike so many fathers that I knew growing up – he did not just send us to church. He went with us and we sat together – always. As a young boy there was no place I would rather be than with him. But, as I got older, his demands for my time felt suffocating and like all father-child relations there were strains and tensions that we somehow found ways to work through.
I look back on my dad’s life and realize that he did an amazing job raising two boys considering the situation of his own life. My dad did not really have parents to show him how to be a father. He was raised by his grandmother after his mom died when he was a small boy. His father remarried and had little or no contact with him after that. I recently received a letter he had written to his father while he was in military school during his teenage years and it spoke volumes about their relationship. He wrote to tell him he had improved his grades and that he hoped he would be proud of him. My hunch is my dad never thought his father was proud of him. Reading that letter broke my heart but also helped me understand him a little better.
My dad wanted me to be things that he never was. He had aspirations for me to be a great athlete and pushed me hard and then harder in that area. Over time I began to resent him for that and by the time I reached high school was so burned out by youth sports that I refused to play. It is a painful memory of my past that I regret but have learned to accept. Like him – I wanted my father to be proud of me. I think he was. When Lisa and I married and Justin came along – he became proud “Pap-Paw Mac”. Heather was born only a month before he passed away – but I know he would have loved her beyond measure.
One of my last fond memories of my dad was being with him to welcome back his beloved Kentucky Wesleyan College basketball team after they won the national championship in 1987. I remember John Worth II, an All-American guard on that team and good friend to Lisa and I, coming to him after he got off the bus and hugging him. My dad cried. It may very well have been the last really good moment in his life and I will never forget Johnny II for that. Four months later my brother Gary would pass away suddenly and my dad was never the same again. His health failed and the broken heart of losing his oldest son would never mend.
Since he passed away in 1988 there have been so many times that I wish he was here. I wish he could have seen Corey Crowder when he played for Kentucky Wesleyan and I am certain he would love watching Andrew McCutcheon roaming centerfield for the Pirates. He was on my mind during both Heather and Justin’s weddings and I know he would have loved little Conner Jack, his great-grandson.
July 5, 2014. I am 54 years old and still cry at the thought of losing my dad – nearly twenty-six years ago. I am still working to accept the flaws of his life and will probably be working through that till the end of my days on earth. But from a distance no one can see the flaws – only the sparkle. And, boy, does that diamond sparkle.
Tom Lea’s son, Steve