A few months ago, I had a very frank conversation with my dad. One that he started himself.
“Rick,” he said, “Was I a good father?”
I thought about this for a minute, only because it was such an unusually deep question for him to ask. Usually our conversations revolved around the Chicago Cubs, movies, politics, history, or– most often– his health problems. This one threw me for a loop.
“Why are you asking me this, Dad?” I retorted, curious what brought on this sudden inquisitiveness.
“Well, I actually asked the same question of your sister the other day, and she said that I was too strict, and spanked you too much.” He replied. “And I felt bad, you know? I felt like I had failed you both as a father.”
I gave his statement some thought, and considered the possibility that my dad had maybe misconstrued what my sister told him. He did this often, as his hearing wasn’t so great; and sometimes he had the ability to take one part of what someone said to him and retain only that. It was a frustrating issue, but we learned to deal with it over time. Besides, I know my sister would never tell him that he was a bad father. We had discussed that between ourselves many times, and agreed that yes, he could have been a little less harsh with the “iron fist”, but he was definitely a very good father. The proof was in how we both turned out.
And so I told him this.
“Dad, yes, you definitely went a bit overboard with the spankings. And yes, you were very strict. But you know what? I’m glad you were strict. I’m glad you spanked us. Because Dad, you were a very good father. You loved us unconditionally, and we never once doubted that. And the fact that you were so strict with us kept us in line and made us who we are today.
“So to answer your question, Dad: You were a damn good father. And don’t you ever think otherwise.”
My dad considered this for a minute, and thanked me. He told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him. And the conversation then continued into discussions about the Chicago Cubs, movies, politics, history, and whatever else happened to be on TV at the time.
As my sister, my mom and I discussed all of this in the past few days, we realized something.
He must have known that his end was coming soon.
This was just one of many such conversations we had with him in the last few months. His demeanor was much more mellow, and he seemed to want to talk more. And when he did talk, he talked about things that meant something to us, or that maybe cleared the air about a certain issue or thing from the past.
And, more than ever, he made sure to say “I love you.”
And every time, we made sure to say it back.