It has been two months since my father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 79 years old and lived a full life.
As many are aware, Alzheimer’s disease can rip a family apart. However, due to the strength of my mother and the patience and understanding of my sister and our immediate family, we were able to cope.
After my father died, the sadness was followed by a sense of relief that has allowed our family to begin to heal and share memories during this Christmas season.
My father spent time as a youngster in rural Georgia before moving to Fort Pierce, Florida. In Fort Pierce, he learned to appreciate the adventures of living on the beautiful Indian River.
He graduated from Dan McCarty High School in 1954. He chose to enter the Army, after declining a medical exception, and after boot camp in Fort Bragg, New Jersey, was promptly put on a ship headed to Europe.
After his stint in the Army he returned to Fort Pierce and after a few years met my mother. They were married for 56 years.
While in the military he learned about electronics, a trade that served him well when he began working for Piper Aircraft in the 1960’s. There he fell in love with airplanes and earned his pilot’s license.
I remember him mapping out cross country flights on the kitchen table and flying over our house on weekend mornings, racking up those needed flying hours.
He took my sister and I with him during some of his lessons – we learned quickly what happened after hearing the stall horn!
Through the ups and downs of the economy, in the seventies and eighties, he always ended up back at Piper Aircraft.
I remember my mother saying the happiest she saw him was when he had a job as a customer service representative at Piper that allowed him to fly while working!
Next to flying, he loved fishing and it was an important family activity.
My father believed fish took the bait earlier then most. When I was old enough, he would wake me at 4:00 am so we could watch the sunrise in the Atlantic ocean just before trolling for king fish.
When he decided it was time for me to catch my first snook, a prized fish and a notable achievement, we spent the night on the river. As planned, I caught that snook while anchored near the South Bridge in the Indian River- I will never forget that moment.
He coached my little league team, and yes put up with difficult parents by listening and not saying a word – quite disarming. For the last two games of his little league coaching career he let the kids pencil the line-up!
All great memories that I shall always cherish.
There are a couple of other memories that show the true measure of the man as a father.
As my little league coach, in my final year, he informed me that I had been beaten out by a younger teammate for the prized position of shortstop. I was devastated for the first time in my young life and my own father delivered the news.
Later that year, I failed to make the park all-star team. I moped and complained. He responded as if I was a disgruntled little league parent – he listened and remained quiet.
I learned in 1974 that life is not all roses- even when my dad was in charge.
Fast forward to my first year at college. As a 17 year old that looked 12, my parents dropped me off at Clemson University in 1980 and due to an on-campus housing shortage, I was placed in a fraternity dorm with upper class students who were not thrilled with my presence.
The guy across the hall was nicknamed “Block.”
For the next two weeks I tried to get relocated. My father discouraged it. I complained it was not fair, failing to remember my situation was a little less daunting than his at this age – in the military and headed to Europe on a ship!
In the end I finished the year in the fraternity dorm, actually spoke to “Block” a time or two. And I will tell you, I grew up more in that year than I thought was possible. The innate desire to survive came fully alive.
Upon reflection, it would have been easy for my father to leave me at shortstop, to tell me the voting for the all-star team was rigged. He could have let me move out of that fraternity dorm.
He did not!
He chose a different course, a course that required a strength and steely resolve that is too often missing in today’s culture.
Through my fathers actions, I have come to understand that the courage for a parent to let a child experience the difficulties of life is the true measure of unselfish love.
I consider myself lucky and proud to say that my father had the foresight to understand this fact. I will never forget this subtle, yet powerful gesture of his love.