“Thanks, Dad”

“Thanks, Dad”

“Thanks, Dad”

By E. Adam Porter

Editor, News of SCC & South County

There’s a picture on canvas, hanging over the stairwell to my bedroom. When I see it, I think, man, I look tired. And then I smile. Not because I look soggy, bedraggled, and thoroughly exhausted in the picture, but because of the other people in it with me: My boys.

We were at the end of a long, fun day at Rainbow Springs State Park: swimming, hiking, swimming again, picnicking, hiking some more, then swimming some more. I look exhausted, because I was, but the boys are grinning ear-to-ear. I love that photo for a lot of reasons. We don’t get the opportunity to get all four of us together much since the Big Kid re-enlisted. I’m proud of him, but it’s tough to be in family photos when you’re busy jumping out of perfectly good airplanes half a world away.

A love for exploring nature is something all four of us have in common, and that had been a great day. Taking advantage of those moments and capturing those memories is something I’m thinking about a lot as we’ll be celebrating Father’s Day in a few days. The celebration this year will be bittersweet for me. My father died last July, so this will be my first Father’s Day without the opportunity to talk to him. But we will talk about him. I’ll share his story so my boys will benefit from the lessons he learned through living.

Most of the day, though, will be about making memories with my boys.

I look forward to hearing from the Big Kid, learning more about his upcoming training assignment. For the two younger boys, Father’s Day is all about spending uninterrupted time with dad. We don’t get enough of that, and I’m not always the best at taking advantage of the opportunities when they’re presented. Maybe that’s something all dads deal with. I know I do, especially on days I’m working from home.

My home office has an open door policy. If the door is open, come on in. If it’s shut, Dad might be shooting a video, making a webinar, or doing a live consultation, so, unless it’s an emergency, wait. Sometimes, though, I get caught up in what I’m doing, and that open door is treated like it’s closed. That happened just a few days ago. My middle son ambled into my office holding a small stack of papers. “Dad,” he said, “Do you want to see my test scores?”

I knew he had just taken an achievement test to track his academic progress, but I thought that could certainly wait until I finished whatever Immensely Important Thing I was working on at the moment. Had I taken a second to glance at the stack of papers in his hand, I would have seen he was holding a lot more than test scores. I would have noticed the way he held them and seen the anticipation on his face.

But Dad was busy, so Dad was blind.

“Go put them on the dining table. I’ll look at them later.” I caught the hesitation as he, slowly and carefully, set the stack of papers on my desk. Now, I did look up, “B,” I said, using his preferred nickname, “I said the dining table. I don’t want those papers on my desk.”

This time, I saw the disappointment as he slowly retrieved the stack of papers and turned to leave. He made it three strides down the hall before my brain put all the pieces together. “Wait, bud, hang on.”

He stopped immediately, face writ with disappointment turning back to nervous anticipation. “I’m sorry, B. Did you want me to look at this stuff now?” He offered a small, hopeful nod.

I picked up the papers, scanned the bar graph indicating his results on the achievement test. He had done well in certain areas, needed to work on some others. Like the rest of us. I glanced over, saw his eagerness intensify. A thought tickled the back of my mind: there is no way this is about test scores. I flipped the page to find a note from the school, instructions about the last day. Nope, this wasn’t it. I flipped to the next page, and that’s when I understood.

The last page in the stack was a drawing.

Pen-and-ink on notebook paper. Science fiction fighter jets and fast-moving tanks. Rockets and missiles. Bunkers with a prominent acronym in giant block letters. Fairly common subject matter for an 11-year-old boy. Except, this drawing didn’t come from the mind of that 11-year-old boy. This drawing was a replica that came from his heart.

A few weeks ago, I’d been going through an old steamer trunk I keep in my closet. The trunk is filled with souvenirs and keepsakes, as well as a bunch of stuff from my school days. One of those things is an old, oversized sketch pad filled with drawings I made when I was B’s age. He had seen me going through the trunk and asked to look at the sketch pad. I handed it over and watched his eyes lit up. “You drew this?” I nodded, and he kept flipping pages filled with science fiction fighter jets, fast-moving tanks, bunkers chock full of rockets… and an acronym that made a lot of sense to a kid growing up during the Cold War.

What I held in my hand all these years later was a near-exact replica of one of those old drawings, which my son had completed at school during free time. This is what the stack of papers was all about. My boy was saying, “Look, Dad, I’m a chip off the ol’ block.”

I almost missed out on that moment because of some mundane chore.

I sat there staring at the drawing, and the longer I held it, the wider his smile grew. Finally, he asked, nervous, “What do you think, Dad?” I looked up, my smile matching his own, “This is amazing, B. Thank you for sharing it.” He stepped forward, threw his arms around me, and hugged me tight, said, “Thanks, Dad.”

Then he turned and bounded out of the room, forgetting the stack of papers now strewn across my desk. I took a moment to straighten them, tears in my eyes, whispered, “No, son. Thank you.”

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Space at the table

Space at the table

Space at the table

By E. Adam Porter

Editor, News of SCC & South County

I love Christmas, the entire holiday season. From the moment the turkey comes out of the oven on Thanksgiving until we toast the new year, my spirits are up, and there’s a gleam in my eye.

I love it all: the shopping, the cooking, the friends and relatives coming and going, the gifts, the smiles on kids’ faces, cocoa and cookies, Christmas lights, trimming the tree, getting nowhere near enough sleep on Christmas Eve, and the opportunity to teach my boys about other customs, cultures, and traditions, as well as the chance to learn a bit more myself. I love stringing the lights, cruising to look at others, as well as the movies we watch every year, the books we read, and the music we listen to. Even the Muzak playing at all the stores that I complain about every year secretly puts a smile on my face.

This season, though, my light is dimmed. Earlier this year, we lost my father and my uncle, and each of them took a piece of me with them. As the holidays approach, I think back to the roller coaster of emotions created by disease and the fighting of it. Initially, before bad news became worse news, both men thought they had more time. I called my father on his birthday, and we talked about coming up for a visit. It had been far too many years since we made the trek up to Michigan, and it was way past time. “Wait a bit,” he said, “Come when the snow is on the ground. Your boys will love it, and I’ll feel better then…”

So, we waited… and “then” never came.

My uncle’s doctors thought they found a treatment protocol that would help him beat the cancer. Three days and a few tests later, that all changed. Practical to a fault, he accepted the news with grace, trying to comfort us as we all fell apart.

We held services, shared memories, commiserated best we could in the World of Covid. Talked about how unfair and capricious life can be and consoled each other with well-worn platitudes and ancient truth. Those words, those timeless ideas, are precious and priceless when you need them. But time passes, and another truth invades: those ideas do not replace an empty space at the table. This year, my family in Florida and Michigan will sit down together and try not to look at the empty chair, try not to picture the men who filled them with their laughter and insight and joy. We will walk through rooms in the homes where we always gather, catching shadows and glimpses of remembered moments, snatches of old conversations so real we can almost hear their voice.

This year, in this season of hope and joy and plenty, we will have an empty space at the table and in our hearts. And we are far from alone. Hundreds of thousands of American families will face their annual gatherings with an unexpected emptiness. Pandemic, depression, addiction, illness, accidents, and the inexorable passage of time will all make their presence felt as we gather, or, in some cases, choose not to gather.

In Ecclesiastes, the old wise king reminds us there is a time to weep and to laugh, to mourn and to dance. This year, for so many, our season of joy will be filled with sorrow, empty spaces at tables and in hearts, filled with loss and pain and bittersweet memories.

As I consider the weeks ahead, wondering what it will feel like to experience those dichotomous emotions during my favorite time of the year, I think about all the other people facing a similar emptiness, and I feel a little space open up inside me. A space for their stress and hurt and regret, for their struggles, questions, and concerns, as we all face an uncertain future. It’s not a big space, because I’m hurting too; but it’s there, and I hope it will be enough to bring comfort to friends and family and to share a smile with a stranger.

Grief is a lonely, isolating condition. But this year, I’m reminded more than ever, we’re all in this together.

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