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My Father's Day wish: Tell Dad how you feel

June 19, 2009|By BILL KOHLER

I was lucky.

I had the chance to say goodbye.

This will be my second Father's Day without my dad.

My father -- the coolest, kindest, smartest, selfless, most sensible man I've ever met -- died on a bitter cold night two Februarys ago.

I remember the events of that evening like it happened last week. I'm not going to burden you with the details and the personal events of the night, but after reading a magazine article this week in Men's Health, I thought it was important to share a lesson learned.

The article focuses on the author's re-connection with his dad and his efforts to tell him all he needs to tell him.

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He was smart enough to realize how valuable a father-son relationship is and started doing something about it despite the 800 miles that separated them.

Not all of us, however, are that intrepid and wise to do that.

I had the pleasure of getting reacquainted with my dad forced upon me in a way. Not that I was complaining, but I kind of became his chauffeur and advocate as he recovered from a semi-botched heart-valve operation and then battled the ensuing leukemia that eventually claimed his life.

We talked a lot over the last five years of his life. Most of it was lighter fare intended to get his mind off needles, doctors, physical therapy and chemo. We chatted about people, local history, his grandkids, politics and how awful the Orioles and Redskins were playing.

I never really came to grips with how seriously ill he was until a few weeks before his death when he just wasn't getting any better despite every medical effort possible for a man his age.

At that point, I knew I had to tell him how I felt about him and how I hoped someday to be half the man he was.

That's easier than it sounds.

Several times, I had to write my thoughts down and kind of read them to him. I had trouble keeping composed, and would chicken out and change the subject. He was a very smart guy and despite his deteriorating condition, he knew what I was trying to say. At times, he even comforted us and said not to worry, it would be OK.

Did I say everything I wanted? Of course not. I wanted to tell him how cool it was to be a teacher's son, so cool that he let us into the gym to play hoops on Sundays, that he let me and Greg take his station wagon to San Francisco in '93, that he didn't beat the daylights out of me when I ... (OK, he could have done that at least a hundred times.)

I wanted to tell him how I admired the way he loved his wife, tithed at church, always listened, treated all his kids and daughters- and sons-in-law equally and how honored I was to share his name.

But I think he knew.

I was one of the lucky ones. I got to look him in the eye and tell him how proud I was to be his son. All of his kids got the chance.

Most of you didn't get that chance. The rest of you probably won't either.

Most men die of heart attacks or in accidents. It's sudden or it happens across the country while you're off living your life, and you can't get there in time.

So here's my Father's Day wish for those of you with fathers still living: Don't wait until Sunday. Pick up the phone and call. Now. Tonight. Talk to him. Go get a beer. Hang out in the garage. Go to a Suns game. Take him to see the Grand Canyon.

Tell him you love him.

Regrets can be hard to live with and don't think you have plenty of time. If I've learned anything over the last 20 years in the news business it's this: Life is short. Forgive if you have to, ask for it if you need to.

He'll appreciate the gesture more than you know, and you'll both feel lucky. And that's a good feeling.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached by calling 800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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