There are things I have learned throughout my life that I know are true. Some of my lessons came from an early age. Some of my lessons came from the way I was raised. Some came from the friends I’ve had and some of my most meaningful lessons have come to me throughout the course of adulthood.
There was a time when I was young. Maybe I was somewhere around seven. Or maybe I was eight. I remember the sky went from clear to cloudy in a matter of minutes. And then the rain came. The sky poured.
I remember the look on my Father’s face. He was working on a shed in the backyard. Although I was young, I could tell there was something on his mind. He looked concerned — or, maybe it would be closer to accurate to say he was angry.
The Old Man’s frustration took on a new level when the weather changed. Then the rain came.
I can recall the look on my Father’s face when he came in the house. I was so small then. He was the biggest thing in the world to me.
I could see the intensity in his face. His eyebrows folded downward as if life cursed him or as if there was “Someone out there,” that caused the rain intentionally just to defy The Old Man’s plans to finish his project.
To this date, I can say that I have never seen a downpour as torrential as I did on that afternoon. The pieces to the shed The Old Man was building were in piles near the back right hand corner of the yard. To me, this barn-like structure was as big as a house. Then again, everything is big at that age.
The Old Man looked at the rainfall through the door. We were in the kitchen. I was looking up at him (or maybe I was always looking up to him) and The Old Man resigned with a sigh. Then he turned away.
I stood in the kitchen and looked out through the storm door to watch the rain. Maybe I was trying to understand. Maybe I was trying to see what The Old Man was seeing.
Next, The Old Man returned in a bathing suit with a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo. He went outside and showered in the rain.
This was brilliant.
He let the rainfall wash everything away. I suppose the rainfall was intended to wash away the ideas and the pain and the thoughts that weighed heavy on his mind.
There was another time that I recall standing almost knee deep in the bay. It was late August. I was about eight or maybe nine. Finally, I had some time with him. The Old Man took me fishing for snappers.
I stepped on a shell and cut the bottom of my foot, which hurt me something awful, but I wouldn’t dare allow or admit to the pain.
I wouldn’t dare because I didn’t want anything to get in the way of this moment.
It is hard to fight for someone’s attention. This is not to say there was no love for me. This only means life was busy. But to a child, life is so very small.
I didn’t know what a mortgage was. I didn’t know what it meant to pay bills or own a company and have to make payroll.
I remember standing in the water with the hot sun on my face.
The Old Man stood with a rod and reel in his hand. His eyes focused on the red and white float that bobbed on the surface to indicate what happens to the bait below.
There was a look on his face. I remember. The sun glistened on his olive skin. His salt and pepper hair blew back from the wind.
He was the only man that I knew — and I mean he was the only man that I really knew, but yet, there were times when it seemed as if I never knew him. I was too young to understand. I didn’t know what real life was like. I had no clue about pressure.
Back then, my biggest pressure was doing homework or going to school. In fairness, this was tough for me. I had difficulties in the classroom that stemmed from both learning and social frustrations. I read poorly. I could never understand math. I hated school. I hated teachers. I hated the fact that I never felt like I fit.
I hated that everything seemed like a competition of some kind. There was always something to compete for; whether it was attention from a girl or from the cool kids, or if there was a test and everyone showed what they scored, but yet, there was me — ashamed of a failing grade or frustrated as if there was someone or something intentionally causing life to happen this way.
I just wanted to fit. I just wanted to feel okay. Those were my pressures then. But in comparison, I always wondered what The Old Man’s pressures were.
As I grew, I came to the understanding that the pressures to be, live, and fit do not change. The need to compete is life. There is always something to compete with. Life does not come freely. There is always pressure.
One of the most meaningful lessons is life comes with challenges. Pain does not skip anyone so why should I expect pain to skip me?
Tragedy comes to us all. And so does victory. But there will be times like the day of the rainfall or the time I waded in the waters near The Great South Bay. There are times that although there will be pain; there will also be something so important, something so profound, and something so memorable and meaningful that nothing else exists but the moment — and not even pain can take this away.
In fairness, I cannot remember the last Father’s Day I spent with my Father. I cannot recall the last meaningful Father’s Day that was extraordinary because my life (and my location) has changed throughout the years.
I do not say that life is ever easy. I only say that life is always necessary. Otherwise, there is nothing.
Otherwise, there are no moments like the walks on the beach. There are no memories of the sun on my face or the love in my heart.
Wherever I am and wherever I go, I will always be me. The lessons I learned and the memories I carry will be the blanket which comforts me when I am old. This means it pays to make my life count.
The Old Man used to always tell me, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
He was right.
I do. I understand the concerns, which is why I’ve learned to appreciate the feel of the sun on my face. I look to feel this whenever possible.
This is also why I’ve learned to appreciate the rain; to wash away the heavy sentiments, to ease the tension, and to rinse the soul of our sorry little troubles, to leave us clean, and face another day.
Happy Father’s Day, Pop.
It’s been a while since I went snapper fishing . . .
But I’m up for the trip if you are.