He's been gone since June of 2004, a little over ten years. I have missed him, mostly because he had become (in the last few years of our relationship) more of a friend, mentor, and counselor. And as I have tried to be a good husband and father, I often wish I could still have one more talk, one more chat, about how I could be better at those aspects of life.
My dad was good at coaching me on work issues, simply because he'd gone from working on the outdoor P-38 assembly line at Lockheed in 1942, to manager of the graphic arts department when he retired in January of 1976. He was known, liked, and highly respected by his subordinates, peers and superiors, and he would often impart to me lessons that he'd learned during that long career at Lockheed. One time, just after I'd been promoted to a more "middle-management" decision-making position, he wrote me a letter, saying that he'd expected this all along: that my employers were grooming me into a management position of some kind. While I never got into the more senior management levels with that company (and eventually was let go after 30 years), the lessons he gave me flavored the things I did then, and still do to this day. Lessons of being very clear in communicating expectations, being honest, and taking responsibility for your actions - basically being ethical - were life lessons he taught me by watching his behavior.
One of our more interesting conversations occurred when my dad was in ICU for psittacosis that he was suffering from in the late 1980's. He said something to me that all these years later I cannot forget:
"I'm sorry I haven't been much of a good father."
I was not expecting that: it was a confession that I never would have thought my dad would have said. But it was just he and I in the ICU at the time - my other family members were not there. I think my dad felt that there were activities and events that he and I never took part in, like the Scouts, or camping trips like he'd done with my older brothers. Perhaps he was feeling a sense of guilt for not doing those things with me, and laying in ICU, one tends to allow those deep, recessed feelings to be expressed. It was a moment between my dad and I that I will never forget.
But I shared with him that I could not have disagreed more. Granted, he and I had experienced a long and tough relationship as I went through my teen years, not because I was a rebellious kid, but because I was not into school or education, which were things he held as very dear and important. He saw me then as a lazy kid, not working to my full potential - wasted talent. It strained our relationship. It really wasn't until I started to work a full time job and then a part time job on top of that, AND in areas that were of interest in him (print and photography) that we began to actually have conversations. Finally, there were the years we traveled together, seeing the glorious Southwest and California that he knew so well, photographing it and sharing the unique visions that we had - that was when our relationship changed from father/son to friends.
Dad, you WERE a great father. I was a pain-in-the-ass son. I was the one that didn't allow you to be the dad you wanted to be. And when I finally did, I was rewarded with getting to know a man of high intelligence, great modesty, wicked sense of humor and wit, and a genuine love that was not expressed in words or affection, but by the quiet deeds that spoke loudly.
So, dad, on your 94th birthday, I just wanna say, you were an AWESOME dad!