The voice was authoritative whether coming from the pulpit, ordering sixteen hamburgers once a year from McDonald’s or making a point with me or one of my eight siblings. Any time my dad was in the room, his presence was unmistakeable. Having grown up in a strict first-generation home of German heritage during the depression, my father raised his brood of nine children with a similar discipline few kids would recognize today.
Papa’ would be the first to tell you he isn’t perfect and there are things he’d do differently today. Over-all I believe we kids have an appreciation and respect for the man we call dad, even if it took us till adulthood to realize it.
At his tallest he was probably no more than 5’9″, but it’s only been in the past several years I’ve realized my dad is merely an average size man. I never envisioned him as big per say, but in many ways he has had this larger than life persona for me.
Papa’ is very disciplined, so when he sets his mind to something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, you can be assured he follows through. I expect a lot of myself, not because I have something to live up to, but maybe because of the “you just do what you need to do” way he has always approached life. As a man of faith, my dad is one who truly walks the talk. I cannot give one instance where I’m aware he’s been even remotely dishonest. This may be why I value integrity as such an important characteristic. The golden rule is a way of life for him, no matter who he encounters. Probably one of the reasons I believe everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect is in part due to him. I may not physically resemble my dad, but even as I write it occurs to me how many traits I’ve inherited from him.
Choosing cards for birthdays or Father’s Day has never been easy because the mushy, “I could always tell you anything” or “You are my best friend” sentiments don’t describe the type of dad he is to me. However, I’ve always known he would be there if I needed him.
In the last couple of months my seemingly invincible father is coming full circle. The disciplined nature he’s always relied on now cruelly plays with his emotions as he struggles to understand why his life is not his to control anymore. Bouts of dementia even seem to make his steadfast faith a sometimes fleeting memory during anxious times.
Over the holidays I tried to reassure Papa’ he didn’t need to apologize for not being able to care for himself. I reminded him of the many times I knew he took care of me when I was a young child. With a heavy sense of sadness I observed the drastic changes that had come about in just a matter of weeks. It is obvious our roles are now reversed and it’s difficult to watch him suffer. But in a strange twist of irony, as I cared for my dad in ways that make him feel childlike, it’s also given me an opportunity to express a tenderness I was never able to do when he was that strong warrior I’d known my whole life.
My dad’s legacy will be the life he’s lived by example and the impact it has had on others. I still see occasional glimpses of the strength I’ll always remember, but one day he will have a peace that only running home will shamelessly bring…
Update: Papa’ went home on January 6, 2012…
They don’t know that I go
running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child