Thanksgiving is tomorrow and like most holidays I tend to get lost in all the activities that have very little to do with the real reason for the celebration. But there are good reasons many of us should give thanks. I had something happen to me recently that really drove that point home.
First I would like to reminisce on something that happened a long time ago. My father was a pot room foreman for Kaiser Aluminum. Kaiser had facilities to mine ore and create aluminum located all over the world. My dad was often assigned to these various plants for tours of duty to train the local workforce to run the facility. Many of these plants were start ups. He and my mother went to West Virginia around 1955 and in 1959 I arrived. I was born across the Ohio river in a small town called Gallipolis. In 1961 we returned home to New Orleans. Shortly after coming home my father was slated to be sent to India for eighteen months. Because of this the whole family received innoculations to provide immunity to the broad array of diseases that were rampant in that country. Those shots made me very ill. So ill that the physicians administering those vaccinations wanted my parents to sign a waiver releasing them from blame should I succumb to side effects brought on by the vaccines. They refused, and my father had to leave without us.
I was age two when he left. When my father was due to return I was not yet four years old. I remember that we went to the airport at night and we were actually outside on the tarmac when my dad’s plane landed. It was cold and I was in a heavy coat with a hat on.
In the distance I saw a tall figure step down the stairs from the parked aircraft. He had on a long trench coat that was black. He seemed far away but I knew exactly who that man was. Without warning I bolted from my mother and began running towards the silhouette in the distance.
I heard my mother’s cries for me to stop but I just kept running. Apparently, because of dramatic weight loss, she did not recognize the man I was hurtling towards. But I was never in doubt. That man was my father.
As I closed the gap between us I could see his features come into focus. He stopped walking and took a knee as I leapt into his arms. I grabbed him as hard as I could and sunk my face into his shoulder. And together we rose up as one.
Last weekend I was invited to attend a football game in Baton Rouge. Due to a crazy array of events I ended up not getting to see the game in person and was irritable when I got up that Sunday to go home. My wife and I attend Catholic Mass every Sunday with our two autistic sons, but with me being three hours away I knew the odds of getting to their facility in time were not good. My only desire was to get there as quickly as possible. Had I been able to actually attend the game I would have been content getting to their school late, but to miss the game and not attend Mass with my family left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
I arrived at their school at ten o’clock in the morning. Just as I was getting near the sidewalk leading up to the chapel, the doors opened up. The first one out was my oldest son. He is twenty-three now and about six feet tall.
He looked up and saw me in the distance. Instantly he began to run in my direction. His gait was so familiar. His legs moving up and down like he was running in between tires on the ground and his arms raised upwards with his hands even with his head.
He hit me at full gallop, wrapping his arms tightly around me. His voice making the squeal that he utters when profoundly happy. He stopped, looked at me with a broad smile, and then hugged me tightly again. He then whispered Daddio, which is how he says daddy. It is one of a handful of words he can actually say aloud.
My mind immediately flashed back to that night in New Orleans when I expressed my love for my father the only way I knew how. My son was now giving me that same unconditional love I felt for my dad. I hugged him back, so grateful for him and what he had given me.
In 1970 I lost my dad. I was eleven. Over the years I lamented that I had been deprived the opportunity to have had meaningful conversations with my father as most young men do. When my two sons were born with severe mental disabilities, I lamented yet again, feeling cursed that I would never have father and son talks with either of my boys. But on Sunday I realized that what I have with my sons, and what I had with my father, was much more than any chat we could have had. I had a chance to show my dad how much I truly loved him and I was shown by my boy how much he truly loves me, in a way that spoke volumes.
And for that I am thankful.