- Family and Parenting
My Father, My Friend: A Moment with Bill Reflection
On a Cold January Night
The end came so suddenly.
I was home from college for the weekend. My dad and I were watching Johnny Carson. Mom had already gone to bed. During a commercial my father got up and went to the bathroom, and thirty seconds later I heard a crash. I ran down the hall and found him sprawled across the bathtub, half in, half out, his face contorted in pain.
It was January 8, 1969. Snow was falling outside and it was bitterly cold. I can still feel it today when I trudge along the path of memories, a biting cold that seeped through the windows and demanded your attention.
I ran back down the hall to the wall phone in the kitchen, dialed 911 and told them we needed an aid car, my dad was having a heart attack and please, oh God please, hurry. I hung up, ran back to the bathroom and held my dad. I was so scared. Tears were flowing freely and I remember being ashamed about the tears because dad wouldn’t want me to cry but dammit, I couldn’t stop.
I told him I loved him.
And he died.
At 11:52 p.m., January 8, 1969. Eight minutes before his fiftieth birthday.
I still miss him today, forty-six years later.
A Little About My Father
“Always move forward, Bill. Never lose ground you already fought for.”
Dale LeRoy Holland was born in 1919 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the youngest of three brothers, his family was poor and from what I can gather it was a tough childhood. He was a good-looking kid with a temper; he grew to be a good-looking man with a temper.
When he was a sophomore in high school he dropped out and rode the rails in search of odd jobs. This was during the Great Depression and times were tough, so kids were needed to help the family. He spent four years doing that, riding from town to town, taking any jobs available, and sending money back to his folks.
From there he went to the Army and served during World War 2. He served in five campaigns during the liberation of Italy, and his military career was liberally sprinkled with adjectives like “brave” and “tempestuous.” After the war he returned to the States, married, and he and his bride moved to Tacoma, Washington, where in 1948 they adopted a blind kid who had been shuttled from one foster home to the next for nine months.
That blind kid was me.
From 1949 until his death, Dale LeRoy Holland worked as a manual laborer in a sand and gravel pit, day in, day out in the rain, snow and unforgiving sun, working hard, making money for his family and never complaining. He was determined that his son would have a better life than he had, and making it possible for his son to go to college was, he said, the greatest accomplishment of his life.
The greatest accomplishment of his life was being the greatest father a child could ask for.
What I Remember Most
“Bill, you are better than no one, but also remember you are less than no one.”
Here’s the thing: my dad made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.
Think about that for a second.
He didn’t tell me I was the most important, but he made me feel like I was.
Is there a greater gift for a parent to give their child?
I remember him never being too tired to play catch with me after work. I remember him being at every one of my baseball games through Little League and high school. I remember him tucking me in at night, and ruffling my hair, and smiling at me with a smile that said everything is going to be all right. I remember feeling completely safe with him in my life, and I remember being completely confused, dazed and alone with him gone.
I remember his ready smile and his willingness to help anyone who needed it. My friends loved him. He made them feel welcomed, he made them laugh and he genuinely cared about their lives.
I remember that no problem was too big to face with him by my side, a hand on my shoulder, a reassuring word in my ear. After his death it seemed every problem was insurmountable.
I Still Miss Him
“Bill, that horse already left the barn. It isn’t coming back, so close the damned barn door and turn out the lights.”
We all say that after a loved one has left, don’t we? “I miss him so much.” “He was the greatest dad in the world.” The platitudes roll in and we look back with misty eyes at a distorted scene of happy times where problems never existed, and we conveniently forget the darker times, the times we disappointed them, the times they disappointed us, when their humanness was less than perfect.
My father was an imperfect man. He wore his imperfection on his sleeve for all to see. He was flawed, a spiritual being having a human experience, stumbling through life just like all of us, sometimes with grace and sometimes with a distinct lack of grace. He could be infuriatingly stubborn. He could be unbending in his code. He demanded one-hundred and ten percent effort and never tolerated excuses. He was oftentimes short on patience and he cussed like the ex-Army grunt he was.
And God almighty, I miss him!
How many times have I wished he was still here? I needed his counsel during the divorce for sure. I needed him to ruffle my hair during those dark days of alcoholism, and I needed him to show me the right path a thousand different times over the span of my life. I just wanted to sit down one more time and pick his brain and have him tell me, again, that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. I wanted him to tell me one more time that a man earns respect through his actions, not his words, and the only true legacy we leave is determined by the degree of humanity we exhibit.
I wish my son had met him. I wish my wife, Bev, could laugh with him. I wish, I wish, I wish.
Forty-six Years of Reflections
It’s been that long now.
I still miss him.
And yet he’s with me daily.
Would he be proud of me today?
I think so.
He would be proud of the man I’ve become. I’m sure he pulled his hair out over the years while I struggled with some of the lessons he taught me, but more than anyone I’ve known he would have understood, because he firmly believed that only lessons learned through struggle are lessons that become part of who we are. I’m sure he’s smiling today.
There are still nights when I’m in bed, the covers pulled up under chin, and I swear I can feel the weight of him as he sits down beside me. He tucks those covers in tight, snug as a bug in a rug, he says, and he asks me about my day and if I’ve done any good during my waking hours. I tell him about it all, and he nods, and smiles, and then leans over and kisses me on the forehead and tells me he’s proud of me, and says the four most important words I have ever heard…..”I love you, Bill.”
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)