Last year, my dad died. He died on Veteran's Day. This man, who was so strong in life, stopped fighting on the day set aside to honor the men and women who went off to strange places to fight for things that we take for granted every day.
My dad was a vet. He fought in Vietnam and came home to a country that hated him, but he had a family that loved him.
Even when he got sick and left us, I still loved him.
Even when I wished I couldn't, I still loved him.
Even when I was furious with him, I still loved him.
For four years after he left, I didn't speak to him. I wanted to. I missed him. I missed him desperately. But I had no idea where he was. I searched the internet weekly trying to find him, but all I could find was our old address. Our old phone number.
During those four years, I had a baby. I wanted to tell him about his new granddaughter. But I couldn't.
Four. Years. For four years, I couldn't talk to my dad.
Then, he died.
He died and I didn't get to say good-bye. He died and I didn't get to tell him I love him one more time. He died and I didn't get to hug him one more time. He died and he never knew about his granddaughter.
He was cremated before the wake. Before I even made it back home. Before there was any closure. I couldn't say good-bye. I couldn't see him one last time. I couldn't touch him.
For four years I grieved with the hope that I would find him in time to make things right. Now, now I grieve knowing that he died thinking I was mad at him. Thinking I didn't love him any more. Thinking I didn't want to be around him.
I have thirty years of memories of my dad. Thirty years of love. Thirty years of being Daddy's Little Girl. I try to remember those years, and not dwell on the last five.
It's really hard. And it sucks.
It sucks a lot.
And it's never going to stop being hard, and it's never going to stop sucking, because I'm never going to stop remembering.
My very first memory is with my dad. I was probably about two, and he was leaving his yellow pick-up truck at Dago’s shop, that’s when it was at the end of the street. We dropped of his truck, and I rode on his shoulders all the way home.
That was the first of thousands of memories I have of my dad. I remember when it was time for him to walk me down the aisle to give me away at my wedding. He came in to see if I was ready. He started to tear up when he saw me, and he told me I looked beautiful. I started to cry, and he pulled the biggest red hanky out of his pocket. As he handed me the hanky he said, “Don’t you start to cry, or I’ll start.” Of course by this point we both were a mess, but we gathered our composure, and finally made it out the door and down the aisle. We had a brief hang up as my dress and veil got caught on the arch and I was jerked to a stop half way down the aisle, but dad ran back to get me untangled. As he was leaning in to kiss my cheek before giving me away, he whispered, “You forgot to put your veil down.”
Four years later, he and my mum came out to Iowa to meet their newest granddaughter. Makaya had him right where she wanted him the first time he held her. She was so fussy, but when Grandpa Jim held her, she snuggled right into his beard, wound her fingers up in it and went to sleep. I knew at that moment, he had moved from my little finger to hers.
Iowa is about 13 hours away by car. That’s a lot of time to think, to remember.
My dad was a vet. He sacrificed years of his life in service to his country. He was wounded during that service, and he sacrificed even more of his life and health because of it, and my Mum, Elsie, was right there with him, nursing him back to health every time.
He carried those injuries and pain with him always, but he didn't let them stop him. He still rode his motorcycle as often as weather allowed, and sometimes even when other bikers would have left the bike at home. And he always flew the American flag and the POW MIA flag every time he rode. He was proud of his country, bought American, and voted to protect the constitutional rights of his fellow countrymen.
He was a gunsmith, and I was so proud of that. I used to hand out his business cards to everyone. It didn't occur to me until many years later that when you hand a guy your dad’s business card that clearly states what his profession is, he’s probably not going to call you for a date.
I remember asking him why he required photo ID when he sold a gun to someone he knew, to one of his friends. His response was, “How well do you ever really know someone? You've known me your whole life, how well do you know me?”
I was only in high school, but that stuck with me. I still think of that conversation often. He was right. How well do you ever really know someone? No matter how much I thought I knew about him, there was still so much more I didn't know. I would sit up at night and wait for him to get home so we could talk. I would find every reason I could to go places with him, and we would talk about anything and everything. I asked him all kinds of questions, and he always had an answer for me.
As far as I was concerned, my dad knew everything. If there was a song I was trying to figure out, I could call dad and he would know who sang it, and when. If I was having a problem with the car, I could call dad and he would help me figure it out so when I took it to the mechanic they wouldn't be able to pull a fast one. If something was going wrong with the house, I could call dad and he’d help me figure it out. When he would come out to visit, he would help Robert and I fix all sorts of things.
He loved chocolate covered cherry cordials and westerns, not just the movies, but the books too. He read Louis Lamoure’s books, he enjoyed John Wayne’s movies, and is the reason I’m a Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis fan.
He told great stories, and I loved hearing them. Stories about when he was growing up and the trouble he would get into, stories about people he met when he was in the service, my favorite was when he sat in a bar in Boston and drank Southern Comfort with Janis Joplin. Even if it was about something or someone at work that day, he could make it interesting. He had a gift.
He took me hunting, and shooting, and spent time with me. He taught me how to sit quietly in the woods and just watch, and how to shoot a rifle. He taught me how to use the sights on a handgun and about gun safety. He taught me how to change a tire, check my oil, and how to drive a standard. He taught me how to play poker and tried to teach me how to play Black jack, but my math skills weren't exactly up to par. He also taught me the art of sarcasm and how to be stubborn, or maybe that was something that was handed down in the genes. If I remember correctly, Grandma Boots was pretty sharp and no easy push over.
I regret that he never got to meet Wesleyann, that she won’t have any memories of her Grandpa Jim or pictures with him. I know he would have loved her just as much as he loved Makaya.
The past few years, dad was sick, and not himself. When Calvin passed on, I knew he was going into the arms of family that had gone before him, and that he would not be lonely. On Sunday, dad walked through the same gates, his body healed and whole, and Calvin was there to greet him with one of his wonderful hugs. I know this and I take comfort in it as I take comfort in the knowledge that when it is my turn, they will both be there, waiting for me.
|James Robert Skinner Jr.|
November 2, 1948--November 11, 2012
I love you, Dad