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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

A Final Lesson From My Dad

Updated: Jan 27

Despite our differences, we did share one thing in common

To say the past few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions would be an insult to amusement parks everywhere. In the past 18 days, my father was admitted, discharged, then readmitted to the hospital before settling in for a few days a rehab hospital near the house he shared with my mom for over 40 years. In the middle of all of this, my twin sons graduated high school contributing to my disjointed mental state. As most of you know, my Dad passed away in the early morning hours of May 29th, and, as I write this, I’m back home in Tennessee, having attended his memorial service in Texas a few days ago.

Like I said, quite the whirlwind.

Further compounding this entire situation is the fact that I haven’t had more than a civil, perfunctory relationship with my parents for over a quarter-century. If you’re looking for juicy details as to the “why” things are the way they are, you may want to move on as I’m not going to provide any. Suffice to say that we’ve all made our share of mistakes resulting in hurt feelings that cut very deep. This also isn’t to suggest my parents aren’t good people – they are. We simply don’t see eye to eye or get along very well, making a superficial relationship the only path to continued connection.

I share the above as context for what follows: as my Dad’s health declined and it appeared that he might not have long to live, I decided to fly to Texas to see him one final time. It had been two years since I saw him in person during a January visit in 2019, and even though he was in a wheelchair at the rehab hospital, he was lucid, alert, and even displayed a little of the wit I inherited from him. He even winked at me while he ate one of his favorite, forbidden snacks: an Oreo cookie slathered with butter.

Near the end of my time with him, I walked towards him to give him what would be our last embrace. As weak as he was, he firmly grasped the arms of his wheelchair and began to rise. Seeing him struggle – with pride and self-respect – I quickly placed my hands under his elbows, pulled him up, and we hugged. He was thin, frail, and even a bit fragile – a far cry from the mustachioed giant I remember from my childhood.

We held each other for longer than a moment, and I whispered, “I love you, Dad.” I felt a gentle but noticeable squeeze on my shoulder as he soflty spoke, “I love you too, son.” Despite our differences, the wounded pride, the hurt feelings, and even the resentments, that was all that needed to be said. As we broke our grasp from each other, I gently helped him back in his chair, and we locked eyes again. We said nothing but, at the same time, communicated everything. Before I left to catch my flight, we took the picture you see here.

The final lesson from my Dad – which applies in all aspects of life – is this: In everything, do it with dignity, sincerity, and love.

Regardless of our tumultuous relationship, I will miss my Dad. I’m happy I flew to Texas for that final hug and goodbye because, without even knowing it, I did it as my Dad taught me: with dignity, sincerity, and love.

Perhaps we had more in common than either of us realized.

Rest in Peace, Dad.

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