As I left his home for the last time, I noticed the card I sent on a shelf in the corner. It made it in time, dad knew it and I was there. As my first Father’s Day arrives without a dad still around, I stare at the picture on the fridge...
So here it was, Thursday, June 16, 2011 just a few days before Father’s Day last year, and I was hoping the card I signed to my dad in Tennessee would get there just in time, rather than the normal days and weeks late as was custom. Actually, it had become a tradition. While I was congratulating myself that this card would finally arrive in time, I was overcome by the reality that this would be the last Father’s Day card I would ever pen to my dad. Ouch!
A year earlier, Jon Richard Jacobson, Sr. (yes, I really am a Junior) had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor setting the terminal timeline in motion. Following two major surgeries, and 12 months of deterioration, the end was near. So now the question tearing my heart and mind apart was this: What do I write to my dad for the last time? In that moment, I understood why the 18th century poet William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions.” I experienced that and can’t remember whether there were more tears or ink on the card, but I managed to put something in the card.
A little background: I grew up in St. Pete, Fla. My parents divorced while I was in elementary school, so siblings and I did the every other weekend thing with dad for some years. It’s great being with a parent who only has to take you places and shower you with stuff for 48 hours while mom worked at the poverty level and struggled to keep home for our family of four, minus dad. As a teen, I out-grew the need for parents and did more of “my stuff,” blowing dad off for some weekends. At age 15, I lived again with my dad for a year with his second wife and her small kids, but would move to Ohio in 1979, while still in high school, to re-join brother, sister and my mom who moved back to Akron where she was. A job at ACME, then college, marriage, daughters and life got in the way. My relationship with dad was like Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle,” or Barry Manilow’s “Ships” that pass in the night, always long-distance, a few laughs, and got together here and there every few years. I grew stronger over the years in my Christian faith, and dad just wandered through the wilderness, never sure who or what to believe. But you know what, he was my dad!
As the drama of family goes, we had a big blow up in early 2010 over a really minor issue and I thought it was out of character, even for dad. I called his mother, my famous and wonderful grandmother (the “great one” now since my kids arrived) and asked if something was wrong with dad . Wouldn’t you know, about three months later, in April of that year, we would learn of dad ’s brain cancer, only after the second seizure, since he didn’t like sharing his ailments? He was in good spirits and we teased that at least there was medical confirmation that a brain did indeed exist. The first surgery to remove a piece of tumor went well and he recovered fast; eight months later the removal of his entire right frontal lobe was very different. We talked more, got over the blow up, but soon things would make less sense; dad was slipping away. I drove my family down to Johnson City, Tenn. to visit with dad and others in April of last year. He was in remarkable condition and we would learn it was the last of anything remarkable. I’ll keep that photo of the two of us on the fridge forever!
Page 2 of 2 - By June he was bedridden; three weeks in, doctors were giving him days. I wanted to return, but struggled with what to do as a self-employed guy who couldn’t leave indefinitely, but wanted to be there. Reports from family and providence caused me to disengage abruptly and drive down alone on Friday, June 24; I’d figure things out when I got there. I arrived just after dinner, dad was in a hospital bed in his living room thanks to the angels of a local hospice organization, he was blind and speech was limited. Hand gestures still worked great. Lot of tears and I held dad ’s hand more that night than all of my childhood combined. We shared some laughs, he was peaceful most of Saturday, and died that evening near 7 p.m. I guess he waited and I will eternally be grateful he did. The best news that he kept a secret, like his ailments, was he had joined a small local church and accepted faith in Christ in his last year. The pastor let my brother from Florida and I stay with her and her husband a couple days to wrap up some things. As I left his home for the last time, I noticed the card I sent on a shelf in the corner. It made it in time, dad knew it and I was there. As my first Father’s Day arrives without a dad still around, I stare at the picture on the fridge... ouch! If you haven’t said what you mean to your dad in a while, now is a good time. And if you didn’t mean what you said last time, it’s never too late to fix that…don’t wait. I’m glad I didn’t.