Like everyone else in the world I’ll wake up this morning thinking about my dad.
I went to visit him last month when I went to the Carolinas on vacation. Mom and I drove to the Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The cemetery had placed a small American flag near the headstone for Memorial Day. My aunt and cousin had placed a flower bouquet in the front of the marker.
I’d give anything to spend the day with him today.
I miss him.
Before he passed away I got to tell him how much I loved him and what a big impact he made on my life.
The person I am and the things I do are a direct result of his mentoring.
That’s not to say that we didn’t disagree. During my teen-age years, if it weren’t for baseball, I don’t think we would have had a single civil conversation.
It wasn’t easy being the son of a decorated war hero, who went on to become a decorated drill sergeant.
I was talking with my cousin the other day about that. I told her when I read Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini,” it was the first time that a book spoke to me. It was like Pat Conroy had looked into my heart and written a book about my life.
When I read this one passage in the book I openly wept because, like the character in the novel, there was actually a time when I prayed for a war so my dad would have someone else to fight besides me.
I was ashamed to admit and I certainly thought I was the only one in the world who had ever felt that about their warrior father.
It wasn’t until after I joined the Navy that my dad and I could have a conversation without feeling like I was one of his recruits.
It wasn’t until a decade or so later that I understood why he did the things he did.
Dad wasn’t much for “touchy feely” sentimental stuff, but he knew how to build successful soldiers and train them to survive — not just in combat, but also in life.
Nearly a decade after his passing, Mom and I still get calls from his former soldiers. At the end of every conversation, they always make a point to tell us their success is because of what they learned from my dad.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. There have been so many times that I’ve instinctively reached for my phone thinking I’ll ask him a quick question or seek his advice on something. By the time the phone is in my hand ready to dial, the realization hits that he’s in a place I can’t call.
That doesn’t stop me from talking to him.
Sometimes, if it’s quiet and I’m concentrating really hard, I can hear his voice.
Last December, I was pulling an all-nighter trying to finish my book. I was near the end of chapter eight and had written this wonderful, truly amazing cliffhanger to end the chapter by having the main character make a surprise announcement to his younger friend.
After nearly waking everyone up from patting myself on the back for such a clever ending to the chapter, I typed “Chapter Nine” on a new document and stared at the nearly empty screen on my laptop, wondering what in the world am I going to do now.
While the surprise announcement was great, it meant I had to reveal the details of that announcement in the closing chapter. How I handled that would have a dramatic impact on the book. In fact, it changed the ending of the book. I knew the success of the book depended on how I handled this one element.
A half hour must have passed as I stared at the screen on my laptop before I started typed.
Believing inspiration would come as I wrote, I had Jack (the main character) tell Bobby (the other main character) he would fill him in over breakfast. I must have filled four pages of text describing the details of their breakfast when I realized that every reader would demand to know the details of Jack’s surprise announcement at the end of chapter eight.
I still had no clue what to write when I felt a hand on my shoulder and I heard my dad’s voice whisper in my ear.
The words that I heard in my ear were the perfect thing for Jack to say, making the ending of the book much better than I imagined.
It was also exactly what my dad would have told me in his direct, no-feelings-spared manner when he was trying to make a point.
I know many will say that it was just my imagination working overtime after staying up all night writing, but I know it was dad reaching out to help me, once again, the way he has done so many times during my life.
I think he would be proud of the book. A lot of Jack’s character is based on him.
I showed my mom a picture of the cover. The publishing house did a wonderful job with the design. It actually exceeded my expectations, which were set high — just as I had been taught my father.
Part of the cover design incorporates a trail of cigarette smoke wafting on a blue background. If you give it more than a cursory look, a pattern begins to emerge in the smoke that looks like a profile of a man.
I had noticed the “profile” when I first received the design from the publishing house, but I just thought it was a cleaver design element.
But when I was showing it around during my family reunion a couple of weeks ago, my cousin Wanda asked if I had purposely made the smoke in that graphic element look like my dad.
I walked over to where she was standing and looked and the cover again. Sure enough, I not only saw the profile of a man in the smoke, this time I saw dad’s face.
The fact is, I had nothing to do with the design of the book cover. It was presented to me for approval a few days before I went to visit my mom. The publishing house knows nothing about my family, nor have I ever told them part of Jack’s character is based on my dad.
Yet as my aunts, uncles and cousins were looking at the book cover, they all saw my dad’s face in the graphic element of smoke.
When “Crosswinds” is released in September, you’ll be able to see it as well. (I’m contractually prohibited from showing the cover until the publishing house holds an official revealing later this summer).
I can’t help but chuckle about it.
While fitting and appropriate, dad always had to get the last word.
Happy Father’s Day.
I miss you, Pop.