Each year Memorial Day and Father’s Day converge with my Dad’s birthday tucked between in early June. And each year these three celebratory occasions draw my mind to a contemplative reminiscence of how Dad lived his life.
He and Mom divorced when I was barely a year old and he and I didn’t see each other again until I was 19 and he 47; and so it was that he offered no fatherly guidance during my formative years. But that which I observed in him as we spent time together during my adult years more than made up for his absence during my boyhood.
I consider myself fortunate to have inherited his disposition and many of his innate behaviors; and for reasons I find it difficult to put into words I find myself driven to emulate the wisdom and stature of character I observed in his life until his death five years ago this summer.
As a tribute to his memory, please indulge me to share with you an excerpt from a column I wrote a few years ago about his passing.
The edges of the path were adorned with ferns, holly, and wildflowers, with a canopy of imposing Douglas Firs towering overhead. Our 10 minute walk into these memorable woods had brought us to a small outcrop where the trees opened to frame a panoramic view of the beautiful Nisqually Valley below. In the distance the valley stretched to the shores of Puget Sound near Tacoma, Washington.
Although hidden from view, not far to our right Mt Rainier rose majestically above the horizon. This was indeed the perfect spot to scatter Dad’s ashes – along this trail where Dad had seldom missed a morning walk during the last 25 years of his life.
The spot had been selected with loving thoughtfulness by my Stepmom. Bee, whom Dad had affectionately called his bride for all of their 43 years together. A year had slipped by since Dad, at the age of 89, had suddenly had a heart attack and died.
Dad lived a storied life that led him from his small town roots in Marion, Ohio to see much of the world before settling in Olympia, Washington. His remarkable journey had included a 25-year career in the Army where he rose to the rank of Command Sergeant Major, as he provided distinguished service during World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War.
Dad’s life story also included three marriages and he would be the first to say his service in this area was not always distinguished. But he got it right the third time, as he grew in wisdom, love, and innate goodness.
It was this goodness that drew four of his children, including the youngest from each of his three marriages, from our homes across the country to share this celebratory walk with Dad’s bride, who had now become “Mom” to all of us.
Over the years we four had often each taken our turn walking this trail with Dad. Now we walked it together for the first time, not saying but each knowing that this might be the last time we would walk this trail that Dad loved so much.
As the only son present, it was my honor to carry his ashes, snuggly tucked in a backpack which Mom placed over my shoulder – an act which I had not anticipated but which I realized instantly was just one of the thoughtful details she had planned for this day.
It was a circle of life moment as each one present took her and his turn casting a handful of Dad’s ashes into a soft breeze and then watched them gently float to the ground. In age we ranged from Mom, well into her 70’s, to my four year old twin nephews who had known their Grandpa just long enough to have a few gems of his goodness planted in their minds.
As we completed our task of bidding Dad farewell, I shared with Mom (who is Korean and a Buddhist) a Buddhist verse I had read that morning. “Even the gorgeous royal chariots wear out, and indeed the body too wears out, but the teaching of goodness does not age.”
Rest in peace, Dad, and thank you for sharing your example of goodness with us.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.