The Last Time...The last time I saw my dad, I didn't know it was going to be the last time I saw him. I was on a break from college, and I had come home for my 21st birthday (a few days before). I don't remember much of what I did for the few days I was home, but I do recall my dad looking weaker and thinner than usual. Over the last year or two, when I would go home to visit my family, I remember him looking more and more tired, and he had lost some weight.
I recall a few times over those years asking my older sister if dad was okay... he didn't have the same vigor he normally had. My sister would tell me "Dad? He's fine... you know he's gonna be around until your 50 keeping you in line.", or something to that effect. It gave me comfort to know that my sister wasn't worried about anything, and she would know if there was something wrong.
When my visits would come to an end, I would always give my dad a hug, and tell him I loved him, and would drive back to college 350 miles away.
The last time I saw my dad, I was getting ready to leave for school. I was hoping to get back and see my girlfriend, and get back to my life there. I was just about ready to go, hurriedly saying goodbye to everyone, when my dad asked me if I could delay leaving, and help him plant a tree in the backyard. I told him I couldn't, as I really wanted to get back. He understood, but said "I could really use your help, as I'm not as young as I used to be". I, being almost 21, young, and head-strong, decided I was going to leave. He looked a little disappointed, but it was fine. So I hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, and told him I loved him while looking him in the eyes He told me he loved me, and off I went.
A couple of days later was my actual birthday. He called me to sing happy birthday to me, as he did every year. He said "I remember when you were born" in a very sentimental way. Then added "I had to change your diapers too!". We talked for a few minutes, and he said "Your 21 now, and if anything were to happen to me, you're the man of the family". I put it off, and said "yeah, sure... whatever". Like I could be ready to do that. Ha.
Three days later, I had come home from being out at a local college bar with some friends. I had just moved in to the fraternity house for the summer, which had only one phone line active. It was after midnight, and I had just gone to bed. Some of the guys downstairs started calling me to let me know that campus security was downstairs, and needed to talk to me. Uh, oh... what did I do this time?!
The campus security officer informed me that my sister was trying to call me, and didn't know where to reach me. Apparently she didn't have the phone number where I had just moved, and campus security had to track me down? Obviously something was terribly wrong. Even the campus security guys looked at me like they felt bad.
I remember thinking about my worst fears, and the phone calls you hope would never come. This was one of them. I didn't know how to react, and I was with a bunch of drunk college students who (mostly) wouldn't know how to deal with this either. I went to my room, and made arrangements to fly back home. I was up all night, and couldn't sleep. i was simply stunned, and couldn't really comprehend it. i made my flight, and went back home.
As it turns out, my dad had been diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease two years prior. It wasn't a typical heart disease, from an unhealthy lifestyle, but rather a fluke in his heart which weakened it slowly over time. It was incurable, and the doctors told him it was terminal, and that he had two years at best to live. He had chosen to live his life without letting anyone know, other than my mom. He didn't want sympathy or drama. He just wanted to live with dignity, the way he always did. It was what he needed to do, and I respect that... but, as sad as it is to say, I would have planted that tree with him (and then some) had I known.
I will write plenty more stories about the man who died and left his family too young, but this was one of the largest turning points in my life. It was 25+ years ago, and to this day, I miss that guy.