The Last Thing My Dad Ever Taught Me

Dad didn’t mean to teach me this last lesson. In my experience, some of the best, most important, most meaningful lessons are unintentional. I’m pretty sure I’ll remember this one.

My father died earlier today. He was 94, in relatively good health for almost all of that time, went into the hospital with a case of pneumonia five weeks ago, and now he’s gone. He owned and operated an accounting business in Maryville for many years, building his professional reputation on honesty and competence, and worked his farm when he wasn’t behind his desk. He was a Mason, a Navy veteran, and, later in his life, a recreational pilot. He spent almost all of his 94 years on the family farm in Loudon County, on land that has been in the family for generations. That farm now belongs to me and my sister Jane, and is among the many things we’ll have to deal with and make decisions about in the coming weeks.

Fathers and sons. Much has been written about that extremely complex relationship, and I have nothing original to add, so I won’t go into ours other than to say it was as multifaceted and convoluted, and went through as many changes, as most father-son relationships.  We were on good terms for much of our time together, including here at the end, and I’m glad about that.

About two and a half weeks ago I was visiting Dad in the rehab center where he was transferred after being stabilized in the hospital. I was almost ready to leave when he looked at me and said, “There are some things that need to be said.” 

I sat back down. “I’m right here, Dad. I’ll stay as long as you need me to.”

He shook his head. “Not today. Let me get my thoughts together.”

I said okay and left. Over the next several visits his decline grew more rapid, and we never finished that conversation. He never told me what he thought needed to be said. I will never know what he felt was so important.

What he taught me, there at the very end, was this: If there are things you need to say, to your family or those close to you, don’t wait. Don’t put it off. If it’s important, it’s important right now.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

3 thoughts on “The Last Thing My Dad Ever Taught Me

  1. I’m so sorry Jim. I totally agree with you about saying what needs to be said, but I also know that sometimes that’s really difficult and many people have been in that situation and don’t get to hear it. I’m hoping you and your sweet family hold on to the good memories and you’re able to feel peace and how much you are loved.


  2. I’m very sorry to hear about your dad, Jim. It leaves a hole in our lives when our parents die, even when they’ve had good, long lives.


  3. So sorry to hear about the passing of your father. I hope that all the good memories help you through the process of getting used to him being gone. I don’t know why but there always seem to be so many things left unsaid between children and their parents…good lessons for us all.


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