It used to drive my wife absolutely nuts. Maybe it’s because I was used to it, and it didn’t faze me. Or maybe, it’s simply because it became an inspiring security blanket for me.
It never failed. Every time I grabbed my eight-foot ladder and I hoisted it up, my father was there at its base in order to make sure nothing happens to his son. My wife, Kari, always worried about “Hon” and the site of him underneath the ladder made her emphatically nervous.
She’d question, “Why does your Dad stand there holding the ladder? God forbid, you fall off the ladder, he won’t be able to hold you up. It’s just as dangerous for him too.”
I would recall how legitimate her perspective was. But I never had the nerve to say anything. Quite frankly, I found his company and observations from 8’ below rather comforting. I can still see his beautiful smiling face looking up at me. I will cherish that face and time forever.
You see, my Hero and father died unexpectedly of a massive stroke, just a few short months ago. Our family was devastated and shocked to our core. It’s only been five years since Mom died and we are still adjusting to life without her beautiful and her unconditional love and support. My sister Tiffany and I were lucky to have such uplifting parents that were also magnificent grandparents.
The pain is real and is still breathtaking, but our lifetime of memories and solace in knowing they are reunited helps make it more manageable. I have experienced more happy tears than sad because if he was here, he’d tell me to keep moving and doing the best I can, just like I would tell him when he shared with me how much his heart broke for Mom.
My father looked out for others his entire life.
In Vietnam in 1968, when he was just a kid, he was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery, when, under hostile enemy fire, he voluntarily discarded his weapon and rescued an injured soldier, who’d been shot. He sprinted back to the chopper with total disregard for his own life.
I’m indebted his fate would bring him home from that jungle “hell” he experienced. He never spoke much about his combat days, but I could see the affliction and disconnect in his eyes. Especially, when he would occasionally open up about the guys who didn’t make it back.
It’s been six decades since the war, and he still battled the pain and anxiety that came from his storied past. Like many, he suffered in silence. He was almost ashamed and embarrassed when people would thank him for his service. He was a humble warrior and Dad will always be our hero and leader.
You see, most people yearn to meet their heroes, but my sister and I were truly raised by ours.
My father has taught us so many things but courage, faith and standing up for those that cannot, are the ones that resonate in my mind and soul.
Last Sunday would be my first Father's Day without him, and although I miss him dearly every single day, I choose to grasp the profound memories and empowering insight he shared with our family. Those tears were very real but so are the smiles and smirks as we continue to experience his unconditional love.
Thank you, Dad, for being the beautiful soul that remains responsible for all of the blessings that I have. We all love you and celebrate your legacy every single day.
And, no matter what, I will be under that ladder for my son, offering the same support and comfort that you always did. I love you. I can't wait to be reunited with you and Mom someday, but until then, I'll continue to pray to be half the man you are.
Damian Rico is the director of marketing and community relations for Hospice of the Calumet Area. The opinions are the writer's.