Posted April 18, 2017 by jimhigley
This is the first of a daily installment from my book, “Bobblehead Dad: 25 Lessons I Forgot I Knew.” Come back tomorrow for more!
Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant wouldn’t have been my first choice as the backdrop for hearing what turned out to be the most powerful words my father ever shared with me. I guess things happen where they are meant to happen.
I was fifteen, and it was about a year after my mom had died. Eating Friday-night dinner at Long John Silver’s—my dad’s traditional way of observing Lent—became our weekly ritual after her death. It was during one of those visits, while my dad was enjoying his seafood combo and a cup of slaw, that I decided to throw a question out onto the table.
“So, um, do you ever sort of kind of think about wanting to do stuff, like—you know—like go out, um, on a date? I’m totally fine if you, you know . . . ”
I’m not sure what possessed me to ask the question. Maybe I needed definition in the new world we lived in. I can’t say for sure, and Dad never quite directly answered the question I had posed. But I knew I hit a nerve when—after a very long, uncomfortable pause—I received his direct, pointed, and purposeful response:
“I want you to listen carefully,” he began. Were he a CIA operative, the tone of his voice would suggest to me that he was about to share the highest-level top secret information. But he wasn’t CIA. This was my dad—breathing very deliberately and staring directly at me. I regretted asking the question as I sat there, still holding a fork to my lips.
“I will raise you to be a man.”
As I looked back into the depths of his eyes, I clearly knew they were telling me to utter not one more word.
And that was the end of our discussion. Never to be revisited again.
My dad fulfilled that commitment to me in the ensuing years. Spectacularly and selflessly.
It wasn’t until after he died that I learned from his brother, my Uncle Jack, the reason for my dad’s Long John Silver’s message. When he was a teenager, my dad’s mother died. And soon after, my dad’s father remarried and began a new life with a new wife. My dad was told to find his own place to live.
Only then, after hearing Uncle Jack’s words, did I understand the resolve I saw in my dad’s eyes that night in Long John Silver’s so long ago. I suspect that experience from his youth taught him the most important lesson in fatherhood he ever received.
Thirty years later, I myself was the dad. With three young children. And I was staring at a diagnosis of cancer. In retrospect, I was also about to begin the last chapter of my marriage—a painful period for my entire family which remains private. My world was collapsing on all fronts. For the first time ever, I feared for my own children’s future as I came face-to-face with the realization that I may not live long enough to raise them to adulthood—let alone show them a father’s unwaivering commitment.
Flying under the radar screen of life was no longer an option because I had plenty of things to address. Job one, however, was dealing with cancer. I not only wanted to win that battle; I needed to decimate the enemy—and reclaim the life I was meant to live.
And so began my journey toward clarity in becoming the man—and dad—I am today, raising my children with purpose and renewed commitment.
Stop by tomorrow for Chapter 1…