31 May 2011

The Fullness of an Empty Spot

On May 14th, 2011, I did what very few on either side of my family have ever done. I walked across a stage and accepted a diploma for a Bachelor’s Degree. To be sure, I was twenty years older than the average college aged graduate, but I certainly was not the biggest procrastinator on the stage that day. In a couple of weeks I’ll sit down in a room full of my fellow graduates and begin my advanced degree; so it seems that what they say about a body in motion staying that way is true. For all of the things that are now present; the academic honors, the degree, the accolades of my peers, and the promising future engaged in a labor of love (as opposed to subsistence laboring), what looms is the missing.

Is it a bad thing to admit that I cannot remember the exact date my father died? I recall that it was January or possibly February, but the exact date escapes me. I can tell you what time of the day I got the news, what was said and how I felt, but not the date. I can tell you about the rage that boiled up inside of a sixteen year old boy as he watched a memorial service co-opted by distant relatives with no sense of decorum; strangers both before and after that brief moment. But I cannot tell you the date. I can tell you the exact date I graduated high school, reported to Marine Corps Boot Camp, was honorably discharged, and a host of other milestones in my life since that day. But I cannot tell you the date my father died.

My father was larger than life to me in the same way fathers hold that position to their children everywhere. But, after all these years, I still suspect that my father actually was larger than life. Our time together was truncated so I never got to grow beyond his shadow, to test myself against his accomplishments and commiserate with him over the results. Would I have lived the life I chose, or would the gravity of his presence have pulled me into its orbit and altered my life‘s trajectory beyond recognition. By my calculations, we have missed about 15,242,400 possible moments together, my father and I, since that illusive date when the knock on our door came before the dawn.

My father was a craftsman, an artist, and an adventurer. He attracted friends by the multitudes; was well known, respected, and quick to lend a hand to any who needed one. He climbed innumerable mountains and recorded the rising or setting of the sun on film and canvas; yet that time between his last sunset and the sunrise that never came for him, he spent alone with machines. At least his mortal shell did. His mind had taken wing and escaped to distant vistas, unwilling to remain confined in a body that had failed him, unwilling to bow before the dark that eventually comes for us all.

I sat awake in the dark, waiting for that knock; dreading that knock; too ashamed to admit that I wished the knock would just happen, so his suffering would end and mine would begin in earnest. The knock became a symbol for the changes that were set in motion in the weeks before; changes that began when my carefully crafted world exploded across the landscape of reality, ejecting me into the unknown.
The true effect of millions of missed moments was not clear to me then, nor is it now. In what way did that knock alter me? Is it the reason I never fathered children, never got married, always managed to stay on the fringes of a crowd; always holding friends at just the right length to allow me to slip back into solitude on the spur of the moment. I am not an apologist. My mistakes are plentiful and well documented. But I just cannot help but wonder at what might have been different if that knock had never come.

As I write this, I am older than my father was when the disease took him. That seems unlikely to a boy that was certain his father would stand over his grave; would live forever; would do all and be all. Memories fade and distort. But it says something that as I looked out at the crowd from that learned dais; as I located the faces of those whose support and love I am humbled to have; the face that loomed the largest was the one that was not there.


  1. That was truly a wonderful post that I'm not ashamed to say brought a tear to my eye.

    He would and is proud of such a great son he has in you.


  2. Paul,
    truly a heartbreaking piece...
    My heart goes out to you...
    You would make your Father proud.

  3. one of the most touching stories i read so far this day... i always have a soft spot for "father" posts maybe because it's the other way around with me... i always have him near, and yet he's so far... and it's the one that reaches out for what needs to be filled in... i don't wait for that knock... someone has opened that door for me...

    wish i could embrace you...

    congratulations paul!

  4. And yes you are back ;) another piece of writing which twists and changes to form a wonderfully heartfelt written piece. I got this my father was my world, the most significant person in my life with dreams like hot air balloons and then one day no more. The only difference is he wasn't cupped and closeted by a disease he just left and at 16 it destroyed my world It must of been so hard to have to see the changes that took place and I totally agree with the missed moments and life changing decisions that may have been different. Although his face was what you most wanted to see his memory lived there and at moments when you think of him in this way he lives on, he lives on through you x

  5. What a wonderful and touching post.

  6. Paul, this was a powerful and tearful post. I believe your father would be very proud of you and your accomplishments in life.

  7. That was so touching...congratulations. I'm sure your father would have been the first one standing there, giving you an ovation, as you received your degree. It's never too late to fulfill one's dreams :)

  8. You really are a beautiful writer, Paul. Congratulations on your degree. Sometimes we'll never know the whys or wherefores. Maybe things are just meant to happen the way they do. Your father would have been proud of you, or who is to say he isn't smiling at your accomplishment right now.

  9. Really amazing post. A great testimonial. I'm sure he would have been proud.

  10. Wow! Very moving post - both happy and sad. Happy for your degree, sad for your early loss of someone so important in your life. I read your "about me" and you remind me of my hubby - that's a good thing. He's a terrific guy and it seems you are also. I'm following both your blogs and look forward to future posts.

    Regards, Mari


  11. Thank you so very much friends, both old and new! Your support humbles and motivates me. I shall strive to live up to your kindness!

  12. Paul, this is twice I have read this post. I rarely do that unless something moves me and this post did, very powerfully. In ways you can't know, my story is similar to yours. My dad lived to an older age, but was taken before he should have been, by disease. Before he could see his oldest child finish graduate school at the age of 50. But in the row of my family waving at me that day from the distance, I saw him too.

    I never thought I would be able to comment on this post. It is hard for me. But...

    BRAVO TO YOU! And I am sure your father is proud of you, as I am sure mine is. Somewhere, they nod in agreement with me.

    ~cath xo