How does a father teach a son to be a man? What is it to even be a man…to be a father…to be a son? In 1944, Dad ran away from home at the age of seventeen, hitchhiked from Richmond, Virginia all the way to Ft. Lauderdale, spent a few nights on a park bench, lied about his age to the Army recruiting officer, and then worked as a bellhop in a swanky hotel until he was inducted into the Service. Somewhere between bellhop and paratrooper, Dad called his parents and told them what he had done.
Before Dad ran away from home he had suffered a few blackout spells, and the doctor had cautioned against overexertion. He could have had a medical deferment for his unreliable heart, that fact, plus being an only child, would have kept him out of the military, but then Dad would never have had his personal odyssey, an adventure he had been planning for some time. He had run away in his mind long before he slipped out the door when his parents weren’t looking. My father understood who he was and dreamed of what he might become, then made the bold choice to defy his overprotective parents.
Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel said his father once told to him, “If you don’t know me you can never know yourself.” Two nights after Dad died I was sleeping in my old bed in my old room. We were in the midst of the wonderful chaos of family and friends sharing our grief and celebrating a life well lived. It was easier to stay home with Mom.
That night, Dad appeared to me in a dream. When he walked into the bedroom, I sat up with a start. He was wearing his Army dress uniform with a chest full of medals. He was smiling as he sat down on the foot of my bed. He gave my legs a gentle slap, and said, “Son, you’re gonna be just fine.”
I believe I went to sleep a boy and woke up a man. That began a journey for me of knowing my father, remembering experiences we shared as father and son, and hearing stories of my father from other friends and family members. Maybe for the first time I was really paying attention.
Dad taught by doing. Watching him in my memory, I began to know myself, what it meant to be a man and a father. I wish I had paid more attention while he was here on this earth but thank God for memory. If running away from home helped produce the kind of man my father became, then I say I am the proud child of a teenage runaway. Oh, the wonder of fatherhood and the miracle of manhood!