At about two months into parenthood, I learned the true meaning of the word "heartbreak". There could not have be anything worse than watching helplessly as he receives his first round of immunization shots. I would have rather have been run over by a truck than have to sit there and watch him go through that. While listening to his screams, I kept thinking that surely medical science could have come up with a better way of doing this by now. As far as any solace from the doctor, all he could say was, "Ah, look at those healthy tears." As we left the office, I whispered into my son's ear, "It's okay, Sam. Sometimes you just have to cry."
In a way I guess it was only a matter of time before Sam was introduced to pain in his life. I remembered losing my father to a sudden car accident a number of years ago. I tried to remain strong through it all. One day, when a song came on the radio that reminded me of your grandpa, I completely lost it. It was the first time since the funeral that I just let go and cried. It felt good to not hold back anymore.
The earliest memory I have of my father is one of me as a young boy holding his hand by his two last fingers as we walked together. His hands seemed so large that his fingers were all I could actually grip. He always took me with him to basketball games even at my young age. I will never forget that.
As I grew older I remember dad and I listening to high school basketball games together on an old transistor radio. I would make a list of players names on a piece of paper and keep track of how many points each would score as the game went on. Too small to stay awake for the whole game, I always fell asleep before the game ended. When I would wake up in the morning I would find the score sheet lying next to me. The score sheet would be filled out with the final score on it completed by my father before he carried me to bed.
I remember the times when my father would stop by the house in the early morning on those cold days when I was home from school over Christmas break. I used to ride on the floor of that bread truck as he delivered the bread to the stores. I don't know if those old trucks even had heaters but it didn't matter. The smell and warmth from the bread that had just come from the bakery ovens would make my mouth water and keep me warm both at the same time.
In high school I became very interested in athletics. My father would attend all my games. My senior year our football team qualified to play in the state championship game. It was the first time in the history of our school that any team had advanced that far. The night before the game my father came to me and sadly announced that he would not be able to attend. He had to deliver the bread to the stores and the site of the games was a three hour drive from his route. He vowed to listen to every play on the transistor radio. Consumed with the anticipation of the game, I acknowledged his comments without fully noticing his regret.
The next day as game time approached I couldn't help thinking about my dad. For some reason as I lined up for the second half kickoff I happened to look across the field into the parking lot. There I saw his blue and white bread truck pulling into the stadium. He has delivered the bread and made the long drive in time to at least see part of the game in which we won the state championship.
Years later I had become a teacher and coach. Early one morning I was awakened by the sound of the telephone ringing at 5:30 A.M. As I struggled to answer the phone I'll never forget the sound of the sheriff's voice on the other end telling me that my dad had just been killed in an automobile accident on his way to work. Cattle from a nearby farm had broken through a fence and wandered onto the highway. Being a dark, rainy morning my father never saw them as he came over a ridge. The impact spun the car sideways in the highway before a semi-trailer collided with it. He was killed instantly. As I listened to the story I could hear my heart beat in my ears. I hung up the phone devastated.
For a long time after that things really didn't matter to me. I went about my life but I really didn't care. It felt as if my heart had been torn away and in a sense it had. I went to work. I still taught school but I was just going through the motions.
One day I was on the school playground supervising a first grade recess. A little boy walked up to me and grabbed my hand by my last two fingers. Just like I use to do to my dad. In that moment my father came back to me.
In that instant I realized that even though my father was gone he had left me something behind. He had left me his smile. He had left me his compassion. He had left me his heart.
When that little boy touched my hand I realized that all these wonderful gifts that I had loved so much about my father could be passed on to others. From that moment on I started. In that moment I understood the meaning of the word heritage.
Like his father, there will be times in my son's life when he will feel pain. When that happens, I hope I am there for him. If I am not, I hope he remembers the words I whispered in his ear that day as we left the doctor's office. "It's okay, Sam. Sometimes you just have to cry."
Copyright © 2004 Tom Krause