“If you were going to be in the army, Huntsville was a great place,” Dad says excitedly.
It’s a non-video call — I’m in Catalunya on a cool Sunday evening a few weeks ago. I can not see my father in his living room far away in Bethesda, Maryland. But, I can picture his surroundings — the in-progress Washington Post crossword puzzle on the coffee table; a sleepy Standard Poodle resting on the sofa next to the window facing the backyard; perhaps a plate of crumbs from a recently consumed jelly doughnut.
“I remember this part of the story — when you were a librarian in the army,” I respond. “Mom had the art teacher’s position lined up at the elementary school… until the principal met her and heard her speak, upon which she was immediately reassigned to become the English teacher.”
“That’s right!” Dad says, “But before that, I had a choice.”
My father recalls his training for the Huntsville job at an army base in Georgia in the Spring of 1955 when he was called into the General’s office.
When my father arrived, the General was holding a letter from a United States Senator.
“The General handed me the letter and I read it,” says Dad. “I knew that my father was behind the letter. My father loved serving in the army.”
Dad continues, “The General told me that with this letter that I could immediately begin new training for a different position and that when I completed it in three months, I would become a First Lieutenant.”
“How long would you have had to have served in that role?” I ask.
“That was my question too,” Dad replies. “The General told me four years. My commitment for Huntsville was only for two years.”
“I chose Huntsville.” Dad says as his voice trails off.
“My father never mentioned my decision again. I think he was disappointed. He loved the army.”
“Gentle and kind.”
These words arrived on the screen of my iPhone about a week ago from my dear friend, Alex. The words are Alex’s first response when I sent him a message that my father had tested positive for COVID, that it had progressed quickly, and there was not a lot of time left.
I thought about Alex’s words. Whether you met my father once or knew him well for years, these words capture his spirit.
As stories and memories of my father flood my thoughts, they are underpinned by his simple and never-ending capacity to offer gentleness and kindness.
Gentleness and kindness accompanied my father to his finish line of this life this past Friday.
At any stage of life, even just a few days shy of one’s 90th birthday, letting go is not easy.
Within the context of our families, the challenges and repercussions of difficult choices made before us can linger for generations… unless someone is willing to change course.
I remember the moment my father changed our course. He became the biggest champion of my life that he sometimes struggled to understand.
And, he brought about this change gently and kindly.
In time, I could clearly see how my father had done this with all of his sons. And later with his grandchildren.
A gentle and kind gift that alters what a family passes down from generation to generation.
A gentle and kind gift that did not cost anything more than a simple moment of self-awareness.
Which circles back to our conversation about the Spring of 1955, which would be the second-to-last conversation that we would have together…
“My father never mentioned my decision again. I think he was disappointed,” says Dad.
“You made the right decision. You made the right decision for mom. You made the right decision for your family. And you made the right decision for you.” I respond. “You created a beautiful change that affected so many people and events.”
“Thank you for saying that,” Dad says.
“No, thank you, Dad.”
With gratitude, Joe