Not long ago my dad died. It was one of the most moving experiences I have had. Most of my life we had a tough, tenuous relationship. Even from a young age before I got into much trouble we were at odds. Things only became more strained through the worst patches of my life. Much of that time we didn’t have a relationship at all. Throughout my adolescence and into adulthood, I was out in the world giving myself and my family the roughest go of it. Things were not well between us. Eventually my lifestyle and behavior deteriorated to a point that required my family to dismiss me from their lives. It seemed a matter of time until I overdosed or someone killed me. Everything that could be done to help me was done. Nothing worked. There was nothing left except to let things run their course.

Instead of dying I was arrested–again. However, this time things changed. For years I had been in and out of institutions. Much of my adult life I spent in jails and rehabs across the country. Most holidays I spent locked up or in rehab (to avoid being locked up). It was tough on my family. That’s not the way my parents raised me. They wondered what the hell it was that they had done wrong. My dad told me once how my mom cried herself to sleep every night for two years because she didn’t know where I was, or if I was alive. I think about that. I think about my mom crying herself to sleep. It’s sobering to imagine how I was the source of so much distress.

I did my time. A year later I got out. My family was skeptical, especially my dad. I had never been able to change. Years and years slipped by, and as time advanced so did the severity of my affliction. However, this time it was different. I did change. Over time it became clear to my family that there may be hope.

Not long after my release, we discovered that my dad had developed pancreatic cancer. He was given only months to live. The news crushed me. I was flooded with thoughts of time wasted. My entire life had been a cluster-fuck. I had put more stress and strain on my family than was bearable. I remember how my throat got tight and my heart hurt when I heard the news.

It instilled in me a sense of urgency unlike anything I had ever known. He wanted to die in Colorado. At the time, I was in Idaho on felony probation. I made plans to join my mom and dad in Colorado as soon as possible. I got my supervision transferred to Boulder. I moved there to be with him while he died. That’s the least I could do. I felt panic at the prospect of his death. I wanted to put things right between us.

IMG_405614I was desperate to set things straight between us before he was gone. I regretted all the lies, the money and things I had stolen over the years, the waste of space I had been. The news of his illness changed me. It made me want to become something, or someone he could be proud of. I wanted him to see that I could turn it around. I intended to re-write my life, and show my family I could be “normal” and productive. However, I took for granted that there would be time to show them. I hadn’t anticipated an imminent and terminal illness on the horizon.

My dad died not long ago. I held his head in my hands. I cried and cried. Until that moment I was unaware that grief could lodge so deep. My tears poured down my face and onto his. It was the last time I would see him lucid and conscious. I held his head in my hands, and I sobbed uncontrollably. I was nearly yelling so he could hear me. I told him over and over that I was sorry. I thanked him for everything he had ever done for me. I asked for his forgiveness for all the bullshit; for every time I hurt them, and for all the disappointment I brought to my family. I told him I would become a great man, and that one day I would make him proud; I would take care of my mom. I wanted him to know, that I would be there for her and my little brother.

My dad died not long ago, and on the day I last said goodbye to him something shattered deep inside me. They say that you grow stronger at the broken places. I hope so.

I remember seeing him in his final days. It was an experience that I will never forget. It shaped me. It helped me to develop as a human being. My dad was, by far, the strongest man I ever met. Seeing his passing, and the days leading up to it shaped me in ways I couldn’t have expected. It altered me to the core of my being.

I will be a better man, in time. I have traveled a great distance from the place I once was. I will become better still. I will take care of my mom and look after my brother as I promised. I will take care of the ladies in my life. That was the last thing he told me; that, and how much he adored my mom. He never told me how much he loved her until that day. She is a special lady.

He told me to forget about the past, he had forgiven me. That’s hard to do though. Forgiving yourself for all the harm you’ve caused is no easy thing… maybe in time.

If life has a point, it is this: Become something more, something better, day over day, year over year. We are sentient beings capable of extraordinary things, both good and evil. Above all else, we are emotional creatures. Emotion is contagious. Everything we do and say, no matter how subtle, is in some way transmitted to those around us. Even the seemingly inconsequential interactions with; the gas station attendant, the store clerk, our co-workers, and certainly to those dearest to us have impact. Our thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes are viral. Conduct yourself accordingly.

vac-12-10.01-300x225There are a ton of things I need to work on as a person. I guess we are all a work-in progress; some of us just need a little more work than others. One thing my dad taught me is that there is no greater attribute one can possess than the desire to help another whenever possible. All we have in this world is one another. My dad is gone now, and I will never see him again. Remember that when you are around the ones you love…

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